Artists of the sublime prefer mystery to scientific data, awe to comprehensibility, and enchantment to statistics.
An age-old art tradition involves inducing a state of wonder. Indeed, substantial literature has developed surrounding the concept of the ‘sublime’ as it has been evoked by artists. The ‘sublime’ infers that some component of the universe is so wondrous that no human creator could ever produce, comprehend, or presume to control it. Such momentous events might include the journey of suns in galactic space, the primeval origins of life on Earth, the churning of the molten mass beneath the crust of the earth. Artists of the sublime prefer mystery to scientific data, awe to comprehensibility, and enchantment to statistics.
Catt’s and Zurr explain, “The very existence of some of the outcomes of biotechnologies brings into question deep rooted perceptions of life and identity, concept of self, and the position of the human in regard to other living beings and the environment. Art has a long history of dealing with these issues. However, some artists believe that the traditional representational engagement with these concerns is not enough. They are manipulating life and ‘inserting’ life into new contexts including the art galleries. By that they are forcing the audience to engage with the living artwork and to share the consequences/responsibilities involved with the manipulation/creation of life for artistic ends.”55
Biotechnology laboratories are zones of such other-worldly operations. That is where, for the first time, humans are manipulating living matter at the level of genes. Working with the blue print of life brings designing life itself within the realm of human capability. The artists comment, “We are at the early stages of the biological revolution. What we see now, genetic engineering, cloning, IVF, organ transplants etc, are just the embryonic stages of what is to come. This revolution deals with the core of life. Humans and their natural environment are going to change to the extent that we will have to redefine the terms ‘Human’ and ‘Nature’.56
a. Regarding ‘wonder’ and the ‘sublime’, compare Ballengee’s re-creation of a species of frog and TC & A’s creation of a semi-living being from the biopsied cell of a frog. Consider the difference in their processes. Ballengee’s manipulation is consistent with those used by humans since the beginning of agriculture; it involves the whole organisms in a selective breeding practice. Compare Ballengee’s tedious and uncertain methodology to TC & A’s whose interventions into living systems utilize tissues instead of whole organisms. The methods conducted in molecular biology laboratories offer three primary advantages over selective breeding: they are faster, they are more precisely controlled, and they can merge different species.
Ballengee and TC & A create new living entitues. Which seems more likely to approach the sublime and thereby stir humanity’s attention, respect, care, and reverence for life? Does one seem more like an inspired mission than a meddlesome intrusion? Explain.
b. Compare Helen and Newton’s ‘Lagoon Cycle’ to TC & A’s creation of a semi-living being. In Lagoon Cycle the Harrisons developed an aqua-culturing technique for rearing Sri Lankan crabs in artificial habitats. While breeding live crabs was an essential aspect of this artwork, the Harrisons did not alter the life form itself. Instead, the focus was directed to the water and temperature conditions in the tanks which made it possible for the crabs to breed. Tissue culturing also directs its manipulations to creating an environment that enables cells to conduct their developmental processes in an artificial environment outside of the mother’s body. Tissue engineers do not create the living matter.
Does the Lagoon Cycle or Victimless Meat seem more likely to approach the sublime and thereby stir humanity’s attention, respect, care, and reverence for life? Does one seem more like an inspired mission than a meddlesome intrusion? Explain.