Of Sunflower Clocks and Robotic Tails: The Art of Biomachinic Interfaces
Keynote speech by Gunalan Nadarajan
While biomachinic interfaces, wherein a biological entity connects and interacts with a machine, have had a very rich and long history in technological development, it has become the subject of artistic use and critical scrutiny relatively recently. This talk provides a historical and conceptual overview of artistic explorations of biomachinic interfaces. The works of artists, scientists and technologists who have attempted to critically challenge and obscure the distinctions between the biological and the machinic through interfaces will be drawn on from a wide range of scientific and artistic sources including animal electricity experiments, industrial farming, food processing, endoscopic devices, wearable computing, cyborg technologies, prosthetics and biomimetics. It is proposed that artistic investigations of biomachinic interfaces raise key ethical, social, cultural and political questions that enable us to reimagine the possibilities of both biology and machines.
Gunalan Nadarajan, an art theorist and curator working at the intersections of art, science and technology, is Dean and Professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. His publications include Ambulations (2000), Construction Site (edited; 2004) and Contemporary Art in Singapore (co-authored; 2007), Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology: Historical Investigations on the Sites and Migration of Knowledge (co-edited; 2009), The Handbook of Visual Culture (co-edited; 2012) and over 100 book chapters, catalogue essays, academic articles and reviews. His writings have been translated into 16 languages. He has curated many international exhibitions including Ambulations (Singapore, 1999), 180KG (Jogjakarta, 2002), media_city (Seoul, 2002), Negotiating Spaces (Auckland, 2004) and DenseLocal (Mexico City, 2009) and Displacements (Beijing, 2014). He was contributing curator for Documenta XI (Kassel, Germany, 2002) and the Singapore Biennale (2006) and served on the jury of a number of international exhibitions, like ISEA2004 (Helsinki / Talinn), transmediale 05 (Berlin), ISEA2006 (San Jose), FutureEverything Festival (Manchester, 2009), ISEA2010 (Istanbul) and ISEA2019 (Gwangju). He was Artistic Co-Director of the Ogaki Biennale 2006, Japan and Artistic Director of ISEA2008 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) in Singapore.
He is active in the development of media arts internationally and has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Inter Society for Electronic Art and is on the Advisory Boards of the Database of Virtual Art (Austria), Cellsbutton Festival (Indonesia) and Arts Future Book series (UK). He has also served as an advisor on creative aspects of digital arts and culture to the UNESCO and the Smithsonian Institution. He served on the Board of Directors of College Art Association (2014-18) and is currently on the International Advisory Board of the ArtScience Museum (Singapore), the Advisory Board of the New Media Caucus and Joint Advisory Board of VCUArts Qatar. He serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Edinburgh University Press book series, Technicities. He continues to work on a National Science Foundation funded initiative, Network for Science Engineering, Art and Design, to develop and support a national network for collaborative research, education and creative practice between sciences, engineering, arts and design. He also served on the committee for the Integration of STEM, Humanities and Arts in Higher Education Report of The Board on Higher Education and Workforce (BHEW) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, USA. In 2004, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art.
He has served in a variety of academic roles in teaching, academic administration and research for almost three decades in several institutions including MICA (Maryland Institute College of Arts), Pennsylvania State University and Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore.