What is life?
According to the dictionary life is:
Life [mass noun]: The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death. – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/life
Though the dictionary definition seems finite, life in relation to art practice can have many different meanings.
In artistic practice, the concept of Life could pertain to drawings, performance art, sculpture, installations e.t.c.
But no other practice explores the concept of the living form than Biological Art.
One such artist who explores Biological art is Perth based Artist and Researcher, Guy Ben-Ary. Specializing in microscopy, biological and digital imaging and tissue engineering, Ben-Ary creates “living” installations composed of a combination of biological materials and robotic elements.
Many of Ben-Ary’s works utilizes bio-organic material from his own body, mainly skin cells, from which neurons are created through stem cell technology.
These Neural networks then go on to create the foundation for the “brains” of Ben-Ary’s installations.
This is cellF, the world’s first neural synthesizer.
In it’s simplest understanding, this large musical instrument is operated not by human beings, but by a biological neural network which is in turn connect into a network of Multi-Electrode Arrays. From these electrodes, cellF’s part-organic ‘brain’ can “listen” to external stimuli and create sounds to correspond with them in turn.
The sounds produced by cellF are often strange, eerie and more often than not create a discord with the live musician that performs beside it in the performance space.
MEART: The Semi-Living Artist
Like cellF, MEART also has a ‘brain’ formed from cultured nerve cells, which are grown in a neuro-engineering laboratory in Georgia institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA.
This brain in turn is connected to a body which consists of a robotic arm holding a pen. With this basic combination of the brain and arm, MEART is capable of create two-dimensional artworks.
Whilst the artworks produced by MEART often appear as scribbles and scrawls, they are in fact based upon visual stimuli provided by a web-cam, adding an element of sight, to the already existing sense of touch.
Unlike cellF, MEART is a more physical installation, where the movements of the arm work in real time along with the brain, mimicking the way an actual artist would work.
Inspired by the aesthetics of steam-punk, retro-futurism and old fashioned scientific equipment, in Potentia provides another look into the functions of Ben-Ary’s biological-cybernetic hybrid brain.
In this work, the cells for the installations’ brain were first harvested from human foreskin, before being put through what is called induced pluripotent stem cell technology (also known as iPS). Using this technique, scientists can take cells from any part of the body and reverse engineer them into stem cells, which then can be “converted” into transforming into another kind of cell (in this case neurons).
With this brain then encased safely in a sculptural incubator, the neurons then are connected to a electrophysical recording system that helps them convert thier neural activities into an eerie and very unsettling soundscape.
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