Relics of bioart: Ethics and messianic aesthetics in performance documentation

Article English OPEN
Senior, A (2014)

Australia-based art collective Tissue Culture and Art Project (TC&A) use the tools of biotechnology as artistic media to create "Semi- Living" sculptures. These sculptures are exhibited, eaten, and killed in various public contexts and, therefore, raise important ethical questions about the existence of life outside of the body. Departing from dominant concerns within the academy about the ethics of producing biological art, the essay instead focuses on the overlooked ethics of its reception. It addresses the ethics of spectatorship in TC&A's work by arguing three main points: first, its documentary images reference, play with, and are haunted by religious iconography; second, examining the messianic resonances in TC&A's work illuminates an ethics of spectatorship that is closely related to the Derridean ethical experience of otherness; and third, focusing on TC&A's documentary images addresses the potential of bioart documentation to generate affect and engage in ethical relations.
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    22 Damien Casey, “Sacrifice, Piss Christ and Liberal Excess,” Law, Text, Culture 5 (2000): 20. For more on this exhibition, see Anthony Fisher and Hayden Ramsay, “The Bishop, the Artist, the Curator and the Crucifix,” Quadrant 41, no. 12 (1997): 48-53, available at;dn=040833082231726;res=IELLCC (accessed 1 March 2014).

    23 Catts and Zurr, “The Art of the Semi-Living and Partial Life,” 9.

    24 Although it is beyond the scope of this essay, the theoretical model applied here helps to articulate the diferent ethical demands of the Semi-Living other of TC&A's artistic practice in comparison with the other in an animal rights or environmental ethics context. In these areas, the other is known and already determinable-for example, as animal (not human) and victim (not perpetrator)-whereas the frame of reference for tissue-cultured sculptures that appear in an artistic context is not already limited by a dominant or fixed discourse.

    25 See, for example, Steve Baker, The Postmodern Animal (London: Reaktion Books, 2000); David Williams, “The Right Horse, the Animal Eye: Bartabas and Théaˆtre Zingaro,” Performance Research 5, no. 2 (2000): 35-36; and Parker-Starbuck, “Becoming-Animate,” 668.

    26 Ridout, “Animal Labour in the Theatrical Economy,” 65.

    27 Ibid.

    28 For a reading of the political resonances of TC&A's work that are available in the installation context, see Dixon, “Creating the Semi-Living,” 411-25.

    29 Gigliotti, “Leonardo's Choice,” 22-34; Jeremy Rifkin, “Dazzled by Science,” Guardian, 14 January 2003, 17. For more, see Mitchell, Bioart and the Vitality of Media, 73-74.

    30 Broadhurst, Digital Practices, 161-84; Gabriella Giannachi, Virtual Theatres: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2004), 81-89, and The Politics of New Media Theatre: Life ® ™ (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2007), 115-21; and Matthew Causey, “The Ethics and Anxiety of Being with Monsters and Machines.”

    31 Tagny Duf, “Going Viral: Live Performance and Documentation in the Science Laboratory,” Performance Research 14, no. 4 (2009): 38 (emphasis in original).

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