The beauty and complexity of biology makes it a fascinating subject for artists to explore. Here are 15 bioart exhibitions to check out that bask in the frontier of art and science.
Science and art are often presented as opposites. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Creativity is essential for science to progress. In turn, advances in science inform the creation of art that reflects on and questions our society.
In recent years, more and more artists and scientists have started getting involved in bioart, a discipline that mixes artistic practice with biology research. Bioart is a response to the incredible steps forward that biology is taking and the ethical consequences that this technology could have — take for example, the birth of the first gene edited babies last year.
Whether you are seeking to learn something new, debate the ethics of science or just enjoy the beauty of biology and art, you should be able to find a bioart exhibition for you in this list.
Where: Postcity, Linz, Austria
When: September 5 — 9, 2019
The Ars Electronica festival showcases art from around the world that explores technology and its relationship with society. While it is not restricted to works featuring biology, the topic is present in many of the works exhibited, reflecting the importance that biology is gaining in the development of new technologies. Some of the projects feature the creation of artificial animal parts, a microbial culture system operated through speech and bioplastics that change color, smell and shape in response to external stimuli.
Biodesign Here Now
Where: Open Cell, London, UK
When: September 19 — 22, 2019
Biodesign Here Now is conceived as an opportunity to give people a first taste of what biodesign is. This discipline uses biology as the starting point to design and develop new materials, products and architecture concepts. The exhibition features the work of multiple designers, including denim made of corn waste, ‘wearable lab’ sensors, bacterial pigments, furniture made from fungi, construction materials made from sweet potato waste, bioplastics produced by algae, and bacterial tanks designed to clean polluted air.
Where: Stadtkino, Vienna, Austria
When: September 23 — 24, 2019
The science art film festival Biofiction seeks to explore the advent of neurotechnologies and how they will impact the conception of the human body in the future. The festival features a series of short films followed by panel discussions, as well as sessions demonstrating state of the art technologies such as brain-computer interfaces and technologies for human augmentation such as sensor implants.
Creatures Made to Measure
Where: Design Museum Gent, Ghent, Belgium
When: May 17 — September 29, 2019
The exhibition Creatures Made to Measure explores how our relationship to animals is affected by technology. Animals are routinely used to obtain food, to produce materials, as research subjects and even as organ donors, but many find the ethics questionable. Several artists explore these dynamics and how new technologies, such as DNA manipulation or cell culture, might change the balance in the interaction between humans and animals.
Extravagant Bodies: Extravagant Love
Where: Nikola Tesla Technical Museum, Zagreb, Croatia
When: September 18 — October 10, 2019
This year’s edition of the art festival Extravagant Bodies gathers the works of international artists and scientists around the topic of love — what it means, how it is expressed, and the expectations and limits set by society. One of the artworks on show is Wombs, a piece where Italian bioartist Margherita Pevere shows a series of laboratory glassware filled with bacterial cultures that resemble human flesh. The recipients are imbued with hormones extracted from her own body and produced as a result of taking contraceptives, putting the focus on pregnancy and its absence as both a physical and political experience.
Where: Nemo Science Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When: July 10 — October 6, 2019
The exhibition Future Food looks at the way food and nutrition will change as a consequence of new technologies. Seasonal crops that now grow all year long, meat grown without any animals involved, nutritional supplements that are matched to our DNA are just some of the future possibilities explored in this exhibition.
Where: Science Gallery Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
When: June 21 — October 6, 2019
Perfection, an exhibition hosted by Trinity College Dublin, features works at the intersection of science and art that question what perfection means. From a scientific perspective, perfection can be understood as optimized performance — take as an example a human body designed to survive car crash accidents. Such a body, on the other hand, might not be perfect from the point of view of aesthetics. Works in the exhibition also explore genetic modification of the human body, the use of machine learning to guide human evolution towards perfection, and the creation of robots that are indistinguishable from human beings.
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate
Where: Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
When: May 18 — October 20, 2019
The exhibition FOOD: Bigger than the Plate examines how the way we grow, distribute and experience food is radically changing. The works show how the food we consume is inevitably linked to politics and economics, and how new scientific advances are transforming the way we eat towards more sustainable practices. Among others, the exhibits feature sustainable tableware made from food waste, edible mushrooms grown from coffee waste, and cheese cultured with human bacteria.
Bio Design at Dutch Design Week
Where: Eindhoven, The Netherlands
When: October 19 — 27, 2019
This year’s edition of the world-renowned Dutch Design Week features a Bio Design Route aimed to take visitors through the city exploring works combining biology and design. The exhibits in this route, accessible through buses and bikes provided by the organizers, include a visit to the working space of BioArt Laboratories, new materials produced from wastewater, spirits produced from leftover fruits, and workshops that explore the role of microorganisms in food and health.
Where: Vitra Design Museum Gallery, Weil am Rhein, Germany
When: July 20 — November 24, 2019
Better Nature, a solo exhibition by British artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg spins around the topic of synthetic biology and how it allows the design of living beings. Working with scientists for years, Ginsberg has a series of projects that explore the possibilities that these technologies could open up in the future. For example, genetically modified bacteria that can detect disease, plants that produce everyday consumer goods, and lightbulbs that glow thanks to bacterial enzymes.
Craft and Graft
Where: Francis Crick Institute, London, UK
When: March 1 — November 30, 2019
The exhibition Craft and Graft shows the techniques that scientists at the Francis Crick Institute use to study biology. The exhibits focuses on state of the art technologies that make new discoveries in biomedical research happen. From lasers to fly breeding and cell growing, scientists share the intricacies of their everyday tools, which, much like an artist’s, allow them to observe and create.
Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology
Where: NC State University, Raleigh, US
When: October 17, 2019 — March 15, 2020
Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology investigates how art and design contribute to the development of biotechnology. The exhibition brings together artists and scientists to explore the role of their disciplines in building the future. Works on show include experiments designed to make mice that are genetically prone to be lucky, portrait sculptures based on the DNA of strangers, and paintings that contain human and microbial DNA.
Where: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The museum Micropia was created with the intention of bringing the public closer to microbes and the essential roles they play. Through beautiful works of art, its exhibits showcase shocking facts about microorganisms that reveal how present they are in our daily lives, and how important they are for us to be healthy and to produce everything from clean water to medicines, energy and food.
Where: Eden Project, Cornwall, UK
The exhibition Invisible Worlds aims to give visibility to the human microbiome — the microorganisms that live inside and on our bodies. While imperceptible to the naked eye, these tiny creatures are essential for our well being. The exhibits include hand cut paper microbe sculptures, a virtual Petri dish that shows the multiple types of bacteria living on our skin, an embroidered map of the body’s microbiome, and a self-portrait made with microbes.
Mind the Gut
Where: Medical Museion, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mind the Gut unveils the close relationship between our brains and the microorganisms that live inside our bowels. Scientific research is making it more evident every day that the workings of our minds are greatly influenced by our microbe companions, and vice versa. This idea is conveyed through works that include historical objects used to study the gut and the brain as well as digital art showing how the microbiome can affect our feelings.