Project Description

Tagny Duff

Photo:Tagny Duff

Canada Council for the Arts

The Cryobook Archives

This new research-creation project focuses on the creation of an interactive  installation featuring two main components. First, a series of “cryobooks” will be made from biotechnological processes and synthetic life including cloned biological viruses genetically modified with a jellyfish gene (RFP). Secondly, a cryogenic archive (an electronic encasing of -80 degree temperature with sensor capacity) will be researched and developed to display the frozen cryobooks.

The encounter with the cryobooks will introduce public visitors to a rare visceral and tactile experience that speaks to the changing nature of information and communications technology, via biotechnology and artificial life. Visitors will be invited to open the cryobook archive and then flip through the frozen, transgenic and asymmetrical hand-made pages of the cryobooks while wearing thermal gloves.

Conceptual premise:

The conceptual premise of this research is articulated in the three points noted below:

1. Books traditionally convey ideas with the skin of trees (paper) and animals (leather). Now books are commonly read as digital pages via the internet and computation screens. Biotechnological and scientific protocols utilize both digital technologies and wet bodies as bioinformatic archiving systems. This project presents the often unseen materials- such as Human-animal tissue—that are commonly used as the new pages of bioinformatic books in the 21st century.

2. This research project further explores the strangeness of wet and cryo-suspended bodies in an era when art and science is increasingly turning to simulated computer generated and digitized bodies to extend human knowledge (and life). In science, for example, the use of human cadavers for study of human anatomy is being phased out and replaced by computer simulation programs. While this technological development
extends new forms of knowledge and archival systems, it simultaneously renders obsolete forms of knowledge founded in the tactile and sensorial engagement with flesh.

Tagny Duff

Photo: Tagny Duff

3. In laboratory practices, computer programming and archival sciences, the prevention of contamination is believed to be an important strategy for stabilizing, preserving and generating knowledge and information. The cryobooks propose a rethinking of this belief by exploring how ‘synthetic’ and ‘wild’ viral and microbial forms of life are implicated in the production of emerging forms of life and knowledge.

This project introduces the potential for future audiences to experience this work ‘first-hand’ in order to encounter and reflect upon the interrelation of synthetic bodies and bioinformatic technologies (including ones own human body) in their physical form. In doing so, it implicitly raises ethical and philosophical questions around the use of human, animal and plant tissue as resources for such knowledge creation, a fact that is often overlooked in the age of bioinformatics that foregrounds DNA code as the “code of life”. Furthermore, this project both explores and evokes the interrelation between human, bioinformatic, synthetic and artificial life, not as isolated DNA or binary code, but as a symbiotic relation. Such a relation is grounded in specific encounters between public visitors and the often private context of the scientific laboratory.

The materialization of the project can be seen to borrow from interdisciplinary, performance, new media and biological arts (or bio art) practices. Works that resonate with this project include paintings by Hieronymus Bosch wherein animal-human chimeras or recombinant creatures performing “unnatural acts” are depicted. The symbolic depiction of transgenesis in Bosch’s works painted during the middle ages is now manifested in life. Transgenic organisms can be seen in the genetically modified foods that we find in the supermarket, to bacteria in our fingernails, to viral vectors, to new hybrid art works. Despite this, as Critical Art Ensemble notes, fear of contagion has not changed much and “ …When the flesh becomes unnaturally mixed, the fear heightens all the more”. (Molecular Invasion 2003)

The encounter with the proposed biological books can further be understood within the tradition of performance and body art works such as Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) and Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (aka Meat Dress, 1987).

The artist gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Integrated Arts Program, The Canada Council for the Arts


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