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BioArt, Representation, and Creativity

amweiner's picture

This week, I have been grappling with the idea of representation. I felt pretty intelectually confused after our bioart project. It felt weird to me that the we weren't giving our participants control over what they were going to make. Art is a way that they can express to the world, eachother, or themselves, how they interpret surroundings or what is going on in their head. This idea, as emphasized in the Disability Reader, is vital to proving that people, such as those on the autism spectrum, do in fact understand the world and the complexities of others. Who are we to rob the participants of their control by making invisible art?


After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that it wasn't for them. The participants from CCW know they are great artists. They don't need to prove anything to anyone. We, however, still have much to learn. I got to watch as people creatively dealt with a brand new substance and then let thier art grow to be whatever it would be. They relinquished control in the name of art thus demonstrating their deep undrstanding of the creative process.

The greatest thing the bioart project did for me was afford me the opportunity to feel frusterated. I looked at this gooey substance I had invisibly painted and felt unsatisfied. I wanted to see the fruits of my labor. I was nervous for how it would turn out, or how people would judge it. The relinquishing of control, for me, was not liberating at all. This process made me feel what it was life to not be able to express exactly what I was thinking. When I saw my art, it wasn't what I had intended it to be. That is not reflective of what is going on in my head. And then, I thought, what if I could not effectively articulate what is was that I did in fact intend? Gosh, that would so frusterating! I can only imagine what it would be like to live without the ability to say what you mean or show people that you are processing and understanding what is going on around you. 

Therefore, I have concluded that these three weeks where we were supposed to be the "experts" and the CCW participants the 'learners' was just the opposite. The participants have taught me so much already about myself. Their patience, kindness, and consideration is eveident. But, I am getting to learn, more and more each week, how skilled and talented they are. They find joy in making art, are fine if it is not what they had originally pictured, and welcome creativity. So, the BioArt project has been an eye-opening experience for me as I found myself grappling with an inability to demonstrate my intention or communicate my thoughts--pretty funny how I am not considered 'mentally disabled' for that. 


lindsey's picture


            I agree with you completely in terms of the ideas of "experts" and "learners"- after experiencing a few weeks working with CCW artists in the lab, I've thought about and experienced science in a totally different way than I do during my everyday experiences in the lab!  Originally my goal in using those words was to emphasize the fluidity in the relationship between HC/BMC students and CCW artists, such that both HC students and CCW artists were able to be “experts” in their comfort zones, but it definitely does seem more limiting to say that there are specific places/ instances where anyone involved in the BioArt program was definitely an “expert” or a “learner”.

            I'm really intrigued by your statements about control, reflecting more on my own laboratory experience, I've found that a huge portion of science is giving up some control and knowing that you cannot control for every variable- for example, I've spent two weeks trying to start a new experiment for my thesis but haven't been able to because my fish won't mate, or I spent many hours in lab before break trying to figure out why a protocol that our lab previously used stopped working.  Additionally, there is a similar loss of control when working with anything that you cannot see, as you stated in your post.  I think part of what drew me to making the laboratory portion of our BioArt project be utilizing bacteria was the idea that bacteria is not something we always have control over nor are they something that are visible.  My hope in creating this project was finding ways to push outside of the comfort zone- whether that meant delving into my own insecurities about creating art, or experiencing the uncertainty of working with living organisms and specifically bacteria that exist despite being unseen by the human eye.