Focus Artistic Research

The Performative Biofact

Project lead: Lucie Strecker
Institute for Fine Arts and Media Art
Duration: 01.02.2016 - 30.11.2020
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): V 501 Richter-Programm (inkl. Richter-PEEK)
Since the 20th century the relationship between ecology and the arts has increasingly shaped various concepts of performance art. These have developed training and working systems such as biomechanics, somatic dance techniques or psychological realistic acting methods (Giannachi and Steward 2005) based on the analysis of natural phenomena.

However, the life sciences have fundamentally changed what we understand by nature and ecology and, as the philosopher and biologist Nicole C. Karafyllis explains, the Aristotelian demarcation between nature and technology as a separation between what grows and what does not is no longer valid. Agri-technology and biotechnology methods such as genetic engineering or cloning mean that life forms can to a great extent also be artificial or technological. Consequently, this project, “The Performative Biofact”, aims to rethink and practically research this relationship.

The theories of new materialism, and in particular the work of the scientist Karen Barad, who questions the dichotomy between ontology and epistemology, open up new perspectives on the relationship between material and performativity, which have previously only been partially taken into account in performance theory and practice.

This project is developing a new experimental process involving the provocative production of a semiartificial, semi-natural being, with the equal treatment of apparatus, humans and non-humans. In Nicole C. Karafyllis’s terminology, the hybrid being that is to be created, whose ontological status alternates between animate and inanimate, can be described as a biofact.

We question the history that the performative production of material derives from and how technological renewal will change our understanding of ecology and art in future. This takes place through the inclusion of historical, culturally relevant relics. New biofacts will be created out of this biological, animalistic material. In this interaction between the human and technology, the figure of the animal also enters the process.

Thereby we seek to avoid a solely anthropocentric perspective on the process and foster new creative solutions. The challenge is to avoid the anthropomorphising of the animal, and instead to liberate it from its passive position as the exploited “other”.

The set-up to be developed together with the co-researchers in this project is intended to unite transdisciplinary methods of archaeology, performance, molecular biology and genetics. Through the concept of performative creation of a biofact in a model experiment, new scope for action and perception arises and offers opportunities to continue the research on the constantly changing relationship between ecology and the arts.