The creation of lifelike appearances is an ever-recurring historical feature in art. Since the earliest anthropomorphic statues, myths of vivification surround artefacts made by the artist’s hand, the animation of malleable matter stands in a long pictorial tradition, and from the 19th century, the biological metaphor is continued in the discussion of the artwork itself as an organism. By means ofform, material or process, a touch of aliveness is staged, ideally favouring an empathic mind-set to bolster reception, aiming at involving the viewer viscerally.Art has imagined, represented and mimicked, then simulated and – quite recently – manipulated living beings and systems for real.
Contemporary artists who enter the labs or create their own to employ biotechnology are particularly ‘close to life’, but the new discipline of Synthetic Biology is particularly well suited to upgrade art historical paradigms of ‘creation’. In parallel, the democratization of lab tools leads to their appropriation by tinkerers and tactical media activists who apply the critical potential of open source culture from the digital age of Media Art to DIY biology and biohacking.
This paper discusses the notion of media adequacy with regards to materials and strategies today, as the trendy discipline of Synthetic Biology aims at designing living systems from scratch, DIY biology seems to become the next pop culture, the ‘happy hacker’ is preferred to the ‘evil engineer’, and as art is increasingly linked to knowledge production und dissemination, within the larger scope of an epistemological turn: artists not simply translate what we know, but how we know what we know.