Special Guest Editor: Jo Wei
In the exhibition Les Immatériaux at Centre Pomipdou in Paris in 1985, Jean-François Lyotard sensed the huge influence that the digital revolution would have on art and society and precisely identified the pulse of the times through the massive scale of the exhibition and the insightful writing. Until today, this exhibition is still repeatedly talked about.
As we step into the year 2020, the museums and biennials around the world turned towards a new wave of “Rematerialization,” focusing on current topics such as environmental crisis, relationships between humans and other species, humans and themselves, and humans and technology. Artists also cast their visions toward the non-human realm, stepping out of the screens, and returned to work in a broader sense of the physical world. Recent exhibitions that involve biotechnology or biomaterial (microorganism, cellular tissues) include La Fabrique du vivant, 2019, at Centre Pomipdou, France; Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life，2019, at Mori Art Museum, Japan; The Hugo Boss Prize 2016: Anicka Yi, Life Is Cheap, 2017, at Guggenheim Museum, U.S.; and especially the 11th Taipei Biennial “Post-Nature” and the 6th Guangzhou Triennial “As We May Think” — which both devoted a large section to the impact of biotechnology and ecological crisis on society and the corresponding reflections.
In 2020, after the shocking wave of coronavirus, humanity has come to a realization that, in this age of accelerationism, humans eventually have to coexist with other species on the same planet. Human beings have to not only live with other people in the society but also reconsider nature not as an object for extracting resources and conqueror, but a home where millions of other species coexist as neighbors. Compared to “conquer,” “symbiosis” might be a more appropriate word. At the current time when technology can easily destroy the whole system of Gaia, reevaluating the position of humankind on the Earth is especially crucial.
Through the examples of five artists, this issue aims to discuss the strong societal impact of biotechnology, as well as reflecting and making resonance in the various fields of art, philosophy, ethics, society, and law. “GFP Bunny”, as a classic work of bio art, refers to the human modification of other species, and its subsequent public intervention; “Victimless Leather” ventured into a new field of using tissues（an aggregate of cells） as materials for art; “Truly Natural” questioned the definition of “artificial v.s. natural” through technology such as genome editing; “Virophilia” predicts the latest relationship between virus and human, in which the virus becomes not a disease of parasitism, but a reciprocator of symbiosis; “Microuniverse” sharply captures the fission of microorganism under high power microscope, which resembles the Big Bang at the dawn of the universe, and attempts to evoke a sense of “a heaven in a wild flower”, a perception which transcends microscopic and macroscopic dimensions.
Together, all of these works call out the theme of this issue — “Virophilia”: How to reimagine the Earth where humans dwell on? How to compensate the massive divisions between human and non-human, eastern and western, subject and object, technology and nature, and artificial and natural, which have been ripped apart further by modernity? The theme is just like what was proposed in the exhibition “Quasi-Nature — Bio Art，Borderline and Laboratory,” curated by the author in 2019. How to find a new approach to coexist with nature during this time with rapidly growing technology? Is it through seeking the ancient wisdom, returning to the concept of “Equalizing Things” developed by Zhuangzi, or the monism of “Man is a part of nature”, proposed by Spinoza in his Ethics; or, perhaps a new mechanism need to be invented so that people can embrace the “New Nature” created by technology?