Video Friday: DIYSECT — DIY Biology and Bioart

The first episode of the DIYSECT web-series, ‘Learning in Public’ introduces several members of the do-it-yourself biology movement (Norfolk’s Biologik, Victoria’s Biospace, and Sunnyvale’s Biocurious), as well as tactical performance artists Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble), Claire Pentecost, and subRosa (Faith Wilding and Hyla Willis). What these groups have in common is idea of public amateurism: hacking hardware, ideas, and life, and revealing that process in the public sphere. These practices reinforce the idea that you don’t have to be classically trained to engage with biology, and show that having access to the tools of biotechnology empowers the everyday citizen with technical knowledge as well as social-political insight into the world we live in.

Key Words: DIYBio, learning together, role of experts, hacker ethic, deconstructing the “black box,” public amateurism, barriers to public literacy, social resistance, open laboratory doors, tinkering

“Learning in Public” features:

  • Mackenzie Cowell (cofounder of DIYBio)
  • Patrik D’haeseleer (member at Biocurious)
  • Jameson Dungan & Rhett Sanders (founders of Biologik)
  • Derek Jacoby (founder of Biospace)
  • Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble)
  • Claire Pentecost (artist and writer)
  • Faith Wilding (subRosa)
  • Hyla Willis (subRosa)

Episode 2: Bioterror & Bioerror  focuses on the FBI bioterrorism case against artist Steve Kurtz as well as the FBI’s present relationship with the DIYBio community. The episode also tries to analyze society’s paranoia on germ warfare, the media exaggerations that fuel it, and the myths and truths about the DIYBio community’s potential to create a pathogen.

Key words: FBI involvement, DIYBio regulatory environment, public fear & paranoia, bio-terrorism, media play on fear, media exaggerations, myths, debunking myths, biosafety

Bioterror & Bioerror features:

  • Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble)
  • Todd Kuiken (Synbio Project)
  • Claire Pentecost (Artist)
  • Rich Pell (Director of the Center for PostNatural History)
  • Paul Vanouse (Artist)
  • Jason Bobe (co-founder of DIYBio)
  • Ellen Jorgensen (co-founder of Genspace community lab)
  • Michael Scroggins (writer & anthropologist)

The third episode of the DIYSECT web-series highlights discussions surrounding the emerging field of transgenics, and the artist and scientists who are provoking them.  Synthetic Biology is making its way into the consumer market, evidenced by the Kickstarter-funded Glowing Plants project. This has created a backlash with technology watchdog groups like the ETC, who fear its release will have damaging effects on the environment. The episode also features artist Adam Zaretsky who uses performance to push the boundaries on what is commonly perceived as frightening and disgusting to the public in biotechnological advancements. His work takes advantage of its controversial nature to propel a wider discussion on what is ethical in the field of synthetic biology. The episode also looks at the public’s relationship with genetically modified organisms, and how corporate manipulation has created general mistrust in the public sphere.

Key words: innate fear and disgust, corporate mistrust and mystification, GMO controversy, bioethics, ethics of genetic manipulation, regulatory environment, corporate profit motive, patents and ownership, media and pop culture exaggerations, yuck factor, public uneasiness

Fear of the Unknown features:

  • Rob Carlson (Author of “Biology is Technology”)
  • Omri Drory-Amirov (Founder of Genome Compiler)
  • Antony Evans (Glowing Plants)
  • Andrew Hessel (Distinguished Researcher at Autodesk)
  • Derek Jacoby (Founder of Victoria’s Biospace)
  • Richard Pell (Director of the Center for PostNatural History)
  • Claire Pentecost (artist & writer)
  • Michael Scroggins (writer & anthropologist)
  • Kyle Taylor (Glowing Plants)
  • Adam Zaretsky (artist, VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics, Ltd.)

Episode #4 Genocracy focuses on the recent advancements of genetic technologies as well as the socio-political and cultural implications that follow. The private company 23andMe offers a low cost, genetic testing product that markets itself as empowering the individual with his/her genetic data, even though they initially neglected to announce that they were actually reselling people’s genetic data to pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, the Personal Genome Project sets a better example by offering a platform where an individual can donate their genetic and environmental data to a public domain, with full acknowledgment of the privacy risks. Artists Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Paul Vanouse also create projects that investigate the notion of genetic determinism that surrounds the language of genetics. The works of these artists (Stranger Visions and Latent Figure Protocol, respectively) challenge the validity, authority, and security of genetic profiling technologies.

Key words: genotyping, rapid sequencing advancements, open access and sharing of genomes, privacy and security, identity (am i my genes?), genetic determinism, genocracy, false promises of the human genome project

Genocracy features:

  • Jason Bobe
  • George Church
  • Marcy Darnovsky
  • Heather Dewey-Hagborg
  • Paul Vanouse

Learn more at the DIYSECT site.