The Implications for Artistic Expressions and Representations of Corporeality of the Experimental Techniques of Biomedical Engineering

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Younger, Jay

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Nalder, Glenda

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While biological scientists justify their research into human genetic engineering on the grounds of its 'therapeutic' potential, art - particularly the genre of science fiction (whose origins can be traced to Mary Shelly's famous tale, Frankenstein) - has acted on the social through culture to alert us to the perilous repercussions of usurping the role of the 'Creator of Life.' Now, at the dawn of the new millennium, the scientific project of mapping human DNA seemingly complete, the plight of the genetically-engineered human has become an intense focus of cultural critique. This doctoral project can be differentiated by its focus on aesthetic inquiry into the implications for expressions and representations of corporeality in relation to contemporary biomedical engineering. It has incorporated stem cell research that entails the manipulation and redirection of adult stem cell fates. The project takes the form of practical and theoretical investigations into cellular responses, and is framed within the matrices of both an innovative collaborative art/science research model and the evolving process of practice-led arts research. The exploratory research is discursively located within the system/environment paradigm. This allows for boundaries between the philosophic and scientific disciplines of: 1. epistemology, 2. ethics and aesthetics and 3. biology and technology to become nodes in a relational network associated with: 1. living and non-living, 2. sentience and consciousness and 3. conceptions of humanness. The cycle of practice-led research culminates in a body of work that began with a project entitled apoptosis, and developed into a three part quasi-scientific vital force series of installations. Each of these installations references nineteenth century scientific experimental processes employed in a search for the essential components of the human being itself. The series of interactive installations is discussed and the processual, pioneering research model, whereby the artist becomes the 'human guinea pig' is theoretically and visually articulated. In addition, time-lapse videomicrograph image data, collected through laboratory experiments is interpreted and recontextualised by the artist-researcher for representation in the vital force series of immersive installations. In these installations the implications of the issues raised by biomedical engineering processes are expressed as a very physical, tactile encounter. The aim is that these encounters engender a multi-sensory experience for the individual viewer, who, when immersed in the aesthetic, corporeal, interactive installations as a participant who completes the work through their engagement. Thus, the significance of the study lies in its re-privileging of the aesthetic experience of corporeality in the discourses surrounding genetic manipulation. This exegesis, like the doctoral project itself, is cyclical; following the inseparable processes of theory and practice through which the implications of the core research issues for a hybrid art/science practice are explored. It echoes the qualitative, post-positivist research methodology used throughout the project, which aimed to overcome the third person perspective through such strategies as interactivity and hybridity.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)

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Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)


Queensland College of Art

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System/environment paradigm





living and non-living



conceptions of human life

post-positivist research methodology

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