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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Artist Response

Joy Garnett wrote:

>First of all, how can "critical artists"
>bring the knowledge out of the labs? You presume there is knowledge to
>be brought out--what if you presume mistakenly? What if  there is no
>"knowledge"  in the labs, only paths of inquiry, experiments with all
>their ups and downs, tricky revelations that need years of
>interpretation, debunking and repeating,  scads of disappointing 
>results that also need eons of interpreting, etc.

I apologize that I was sloppy with my rhetoric. I promise never to use
the word "knowledge" again as long as I can utter the words "David

>In specialized fields--science
>being one--artists may indeed find themselves to be nonspecialists.
>Even "critical artists". So what you have are nonspecialists  who, in their zeal to dig out and interpret things for which they lack the 
>language and tools to begin to understand, end up misinterpreting
>incomplete data and projecting a lot of  inaccurate "fluid
>possibilities". What you have is the blind leading the blind.

I am not speaking of experimental work so much (although it would depend
on the initiative), but the done-deals which are manfesting in
technological systems that are already having material impact on
society. To understand much of this impact and its relation to
scientific discourse, it is not necessary to have a Ph.D. in a
scientific field in much the same way that a person can understand the
social and poltical impact of computers without having a Ph.D in
computer science or political science.

On our latest project Flesh Machine, Critical Art Ensemble did spend a
year in the labs at the Mellon Institute, and lived with couple as they
went through IVF, so we do agree that research is required, but I do not
have to be an expert on fertility to critique the use "selective
reduction" in human reproductive clinics. It's not that mysterious and

>> The problem now is that the nonspecialist public does not have a clue
>> what is happening in the labs and clinics. The only regular
>> intersection
>> between the general public discourse and specialized scientific
>> discourse is in the realm of ethics (the most impoverished and
>> reactionary of language systems).

>How could they know? 

Yes, how could they, and that's the problem. CAE is suggesting that
artists can begin to change this situation, and do so in a productive

>Do they know what's happening with D & G? Or Lacan?

Why would they care? I hope you are not comparing a situation that
profoundly impacts all people (from reproduction to food supply) with
french theory.  In the former, I can see every reason that people would
have a tremndous stake in knowing about this discourse. I cannot say the
same for the latter.

>Do you, as a critical artist, think you can,
>without years of dedication, without learning the language, begin to
>understand particle physics, or the habits of retro viruses enough to
>present them to the nonspecialist public?

Yes. Let me give you an example or two. I for one am very glad that
information concerning the AIDS crisis at all levels was taken from the
"experts," remade, and redistributed. I found the information provided
by ACT UP and GMHC to be much more helpful than what was coming from
science. I think the same can be said of the feminist movement's
treatment of abortion and in other women's medical issues. In art
"proper," a work like Group Material's AIDS Timeline was a brilliant and
substantial social history of the relationship of the political,
scientific, and medical discourse surrounding AIDS. As with AIDS and
abortion, it's time for artists and activists to make similar inquiries
into other issues of biology and biotechnology. 

The rhetoric that you are using that only the experts have the right to
speak, because it is only they who can understand a subject, and that
any nonexpert who speaks is simply presumptuous (the blind leading the
blind) is one of the primary ideologies that confounds the development
of interdisciplinarity and collaboration that you go onto speak so
highly of. 

>We have a problem here, of ultra-specialization in our culture, 


>and it's going to take the efforts of specialists themselves to resolve

It would take nothing short of a full scale scale revolution in
knowledge (oops, broke my promise) production and management for this to
happen, so it seems unlikely that such a resolution will occur. So
rather than waiting for hell to freeze over, critical artists will do
what we can.

>> Artists can play a significant role in
>> developing an awareness about bio-tech, and languages with which to
>> speak about it critically. However, to accomplish these goals,
>> artists have some self-educating to do too.

>This is the thing: the only valid way for us to play that significant
>role is through collaboration with the scientists and other specialists
>outside our field. This would provide a way to achieve a genuine
>understanding within each discipline, an understanding for each of the
>value of the other, and to stretch each discipline ever so slightly.
>Collaboration between individuals in different fields.

I agree that collaboration is great; however, I can't agree with your
totalizing statement that it is "the only valid way." Any literate
person can learn enough --even stupid artists like myself-- to do
"valid" work on any given subject (see above). 

Simple consultation, rather than collaboration, can also prove fruitful
and "valid."

Also, there is much bio-tech work that certain branches of science does
not want represented to the public. In these cases, I doubt that
corporate and military scientists will offer the rope that hangs them.
Sometimes you just have to go it alone, rather than do nothing at all,
and hope that the experts will play nice. 

Steve Kurtz

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