Bioart, Feminism, and the Autonomy of Craft

March 25, 2019

 

The predominance of women on the international bioart scene deserves proper attention. Their work brings together the hands-on craft-like manual labor of benchwork in the lab, fine art, and and the natural sciences writ large. Working with the genetic editing tool CRISPR-cas9 and living matter, ranging from bacteria to slime molds, the women of international bioart introduce an art practice in which craft is at once autonomous and immersed: bold, avant-garde art commenting on the perversely generative and dangerous accelerationism of twenty-first century biotechnology.

 

I birthed this idea at Judy Chicago's public talk on Saturday at the Nasher Sculpture Center. Chicago frames "craft" as "women's work" which, because of its denegation by patriarchy, must be lifted up and legitimated as "fine art." While valid, this position overlooks the tradition of "craft" within the 19th-century Arts & Crafts movement, which was fueled by labor politics, manual work, finely tuned applied arts, and an expanding market of middle class consumerism. Craft from this perspective is democratic and porous, open to alternative modes of agency based in science, design, and utility (portal to contemporary bioart). The Bauhaus built their curriculum in part on the British A&C movement, promising equal opportunity to all artist-students -- men and women alike -- modeling the school on a heady combination of unions and idealized medieval guilds. But, unfortunately in practice women at the school were not allowed to learn or practice architecture and were relegated to the textile and weaving workshops. Yet, the female-dominant and female-managed textile workshops at the Bauhaus were very successful, not only providing income for the school but also the development of a potent theoretical ballast for the curriculum rooted in weaving, textile, woof and warp. Think here of Annie Albers, among many others. Herein lie the seeds of a powerful theory of woman-craft/women's work -- a prism through which to understand the art practices and work of international bioartists + bioart and the singular presence of women therein. Craft as agency; craft as science; craft as art. Books of ballast here: Gottfied Semper's The Four Elements of Architecture and T'ai Smith's Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design. Artists of import: Anna Dumitriu, Heather Barnett, Rachel Mayeri, Sarah Craske, Kira O'Reilly, WhiteFeather Hunter, Marta De Menezes, et. al.

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@ 2018 Charissa N. Terranova
 

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