Interview: Beyond Humans

Ani­ta Her­mann­städ­ter in an inter­view with the artist Rei­ner Maria Maty­sik and the cura­tor Inge­borg Reichle

In recent years art­works by the Ber­lin artist Rei­ner Maria Maty­sik have been exhi­bi­ted at various venues and in very diver­se con­texts. His work beca­me well known par­ti­cu­lar­ly through his models of post-evo­lu­tio­na­ry orga­nisms, which are situa­ted bet­ween Matysik’s visi­on of acti­ve evo­lu­ti­on, that is, evo­lu­ti­on con­trol­led by humans, and the future forms of living bio­lo­gi­cal sculp­tures crea­ted by the artist. The artist’s moti­va­ti­on in crea­ting the­se pro­to­ty­pes of future orga­nisms stems from his con­vic­tion that the rapid advan­ces in modern mole­cu­lar bio­lo­gy and gene­tic engi­nee­ring will have dra­ma­tic con­se­quen­ces for the pro­cess of bio­lo­gi­cal evo­lu­ti­on, as well as for art, that can hard­ly be asses­sed at pre­sent. The exhi­bi­ti­on jen­seits des men­schen was cura­ted by the art his­to­ri­an Inge­borg Reich­le for the Ber­lin Medi­cal Histo­ry Muse­um of the Cha­ri­té. Three aspects of Rei­ner Maria Matysik’s mul­ti-laye­red œuvre are high­ligh­ted and brought tog­e­ther in a syn­the­sis. From his exten­si­ve seri­es of post-evo­lu­tio­na­ry orga­nisms three exhi­bits were selec­ted for a very dis­tinc­ti­ve space, the museum’s lec­tu­re hall ruin; they are sus­pen­ded from the roof on steel cables and hang abo­ve the heads of visi­tors. In the second area of the exhi­bi­ti­on the artist focu­ses on the future of human evo­lu­ti­on and for the first time worked with model­ling wax. In the third sec­tion Maty­sik also breaks new ground: with the sup­port of the Deut­sches Insti­tut für Zell- und Gewe­be­er­satz and using the tech­ni­ques of tis­sue engi­nee­ring, the artist crea­ted for the first time a living sculp­tu­re from his own cells, which is exhi­bi­ted in the muse­um as a spe­ci­men. Matysik’s works and the pro­ces­ses used to crea­te them can be unders­tood as visu­al artis­tic expe­ri­ments as well as a con­tri­bu­ti­on to the con­tem­pora­ry nego­tia­ti­on pro­cess for the world of tomorrow.

Interview

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, recent­ly you have main­ly exhi­bi­ted in gal­le­ries and muse­ums of con­tem­pora­ry art, and not in sci­ence loca­ti­ons. In what way is it a chal­len­ge for you to exhi­bit your work in a medi­cal histo­ry muse­um, which pres­ents sci­en­ti­fic objects and specimens? 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

The ide­al loca­ti­on for art is still the clas­si­cal, shel­te­red exhi­bi­ti­on space as found in a Kunst­ver­ein (art socie­ty), art gal­le­ry, or art muse­um. This envi­ron­ment faci­li­ta­tes the necessa­ry access and enab­les enga­ge­ment with the art without any ener­gy loss. Some forms of art, howe­ver, feel cons­trai­ned by such spaces and demand dif­fe­rent, more open con­texts. With regard to what I do, I am not actual­ly sure whe­ther it can be clas­sed as art, and what qua­li­ties the ide­al loca­ti­ons for it should have. What is cer­tain is that I’m not doing sci­ence; but what it actual­ly is remains uncer­tain. I think that the appro­pria­te con­text for what I have pro­du­ced does not yet exist; at the moment it is art that lacks a bet­ter location. 

Ulti­mate­ly, it’s about a child’s dream of dis­co­vering some­thing new, and of pushing back the fron­tiers of thin­king and expe­ri­en­cing. For this, sci­ence offers dif­fe­rent resour­ces to art. Howe­ver, both sci­ence and art endea­vour to push for­ward into ter­ri­to­ry that was unknown befo­re or make what has not been thought of conceivable. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, you see your works as being loca­ted out­side of art, then? 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

In the case of my works it is only logi­cal that they appe­ar in spaces not meant for art. But it would be a real tra­ge­dy not to appe­ar in an art con­text ever again, becau­se other visi­tors to other types of insti­tu­ti­ons usual­ly don’t know how to “read” what they are see­ing. That art is encoun­te­red out­side of spaces dedi­ca­ted to it is, in the mean­ti­me, not­hing spe­cial. In the mean­ti­me the num­ber of art inter­ven­ti­ons has beco­me infla­tio­na­ry, and I often get the impres­si­on that art is fre­quent­ly being func­tio­n­a­li­sed; the spaces in which it inter­venes are to be ren­de­red more attrac­ti­ve. For works that are crea­ted in peri­pheral are­as of art, howe­ver, it does make sen­se to enter spaces not meant for art. Suc­cess­ful inter­ven­ti­ons for me are tho­se that do not behave affir­ma­tively to the con­text, but ins­tead unhin­ge it. 

My exhi­bi­ti­on Bio­fak­te in the Zoo­lo­gi­sches For­schungs­mu­se­um 
Alex­an­der Koenig in Bonn in 2008 was such an inter­ven­ti­on. In natu­ral histo­ry muse­ums today ani­mal spe­ci­mens are main­ly pre­sen­ted in repli­cas of their habi­tats and the tra­di­tio­nal mode of pre­sen­ta­ti­on, arran­ged accord­ing to bio­lo­gi­cal clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on in show­ca­ses fil­led to burs­t­ing point, is gra­du­al­ly disap­pearing. In the wing of the muse­um that I set up, the bio­facts remai­ned non-loca­ted, becau­se they don’t yet have a refe­rence land­s­cape. Per­ma­nent abo­de in nar­row show­ca­ses is not pos­si­ble for them; the door would be pushed open and the glass shat­te­red, becau­se the­se bio­facts have still to con­quer their own ter­ri­to­ries and to rebuild them in accordance with their needs. 

My exhi­bi­ti­on in the Ber­lin Medi­cal Histo­ry Muse­um of the Cha­ri­té calls a fun­da­men­tal per­spec­ti­ve of the muse­um into ques­ti­on, becau­se the muse­um dis­plays the dise­a­sed, patho­lo­gi­cal body. With this per­spec­ti­ve I con­trast works that show unusu­al forms of the human body, or forms that do not exist in this way, to pro­vi­de a uto­pian view on the pos­si­bi­li­ties of the human. I regard dif­fe­ren­ces as an oppor­tu­ni­ty; when ano­ma­lies are not unders­tood as defor­mi­ties or muti­la­ti­ons but as an optio­nal design, an exten­si­on, or change. 

When medi­cal and bio­sci­ence pro­ce­du­res of the life sci­en­ces are used, like xeno­trans­plan­ta­ti­on or tis­sue engi­nee­ring, the inter­ven­ti­on and chan­ges for the pati­ent should remain as small as pos­si­ble and be con­cea­led by the results. Howe­ver, I am espe­cial­ly inte­res­ted in the col­la­ges and hybrids that could result from this. Organs crea­ted at a sub­hu­man level do not necessa­ri­ly have to be trans­plan­ted in the place that natu­re inten­ded for the organ. They could also be a basis for inde­pen­dent, indi­vi­du­al orga­nisms, which might enab­le com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent forms of human exis­tence. Perhaps we are get­ting sur­pri­sin­gly clo­se to Fried­rich Schle­gel who wro­te that the most high­ly per­fec­ted life would be not­hing other than pure vegetating. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Inge­borg, you cur­r­ent­ly move bet­ween your job as art his­to­ri­an at the Ber­lin-Bran­den­burg Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces and as cura­tor of this exhi­bi­ti­on. What inspi­ra­ti­on for cura­ting this exhi­bi­ti­on do you deri­ve from your rese­arch on the rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween art and science? 

Inge­borg Reichle

My work as a scho­l­ar over the past years appears to me in a new light through cura­ting this exhi­bi­ti­on. When I began working on art out of the labo­ra­to­ry ten years ago, I was not awa­re of just how com­plex it is to crea­te labo­ra­to­ry con­di­ti­ons in the con­text of a public exhi­bi­ti­on, or how dif­fi­cult, actual­ly almost impos­si­ble, it is for artists to get access to sci­ence faci­li­ties. In recent years it has beco­me easier through artist-in-resi­dence pro­gram­mes and more and more open­ness on the part of sci­en­tists to inte­gra­te artists in their labo­ra­to­ry rese­arch con­texts and to give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rea­li­se artis­ti­cal­ly moti­va­ted pro­jects in the labo­ra­to­ry. Up to now the results of my rese­arch have main­ly been pre­sen­ted in lec­tures and publi­ca­ti­ons. 
Orga­ni­sing an exhi­bi­ti­on I find to be both pro­duc­ti­ve and mea­ning­ful, not least becau­se of the com­bi­na­ti­on of theo­ry and pra­xis. I first encoun­te­red Rei­ner Maria Matysik’s work around ten years ago at an exhi­bi­ti­on in Ber­lin, and it fea­tures in my book Kunst aus dem Labor (2005) / Art in the Age of Tech­no­sci­ence (2009). Pre­pa­ring a mee­ting and publi­ca­ti­on on Visu­al Models with col­leagues in 2007 pre­sen­ted a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in grea­ter depth on Rei­ner Maria Matysik’s post-evo­lu­tio­na­ry orga­nisms. Thus, befo­re this exhi­bi­ti­on I had actual­ly worked for several years on the theo­ries, and par­ti­cu­lar­ly the pro­duc­tion methods of the artist. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Inge­borg, with the Inter­ven­ti­ons seri­es the Ber­lin Medi­cal Histo­ry Muse­um of the Cha­ri­té offers artists an expe­ri­men­tal space in which they encoun­ter the histo­ry of medi­ci­ne from the eigh-teenth cen­tu­ry to the pre­sent and enga­ge with it from their posi­ti­on. In the exhi­bi­ti­on jen­seits des men­schen the dise­a­sed and patho­lo­gi­cal is con­fron­ted by visio­na­ry diver­si­ty. How is the spe­ci­fi­ci­ty of this loca­ti­on inter­ro­ga­ted in your cura­to­ri­al concept? 

Inge­borg Reichle

In the lat­ter half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Rudolf Virchow, the foun­der of the muse­um, began to rese­arch, mea­su­re, and clas­si­fy the evo­lu­tio­na­ry histo­ry of humans. With his collec­tion of over 23,000 wet and dry ana­to­mi­c­al spe­ci­mens 
Virchow wan­ted to pre­sent in his muse­um the then known spec­trum of human dise­a­ses as com­pre­hen­si­ve­ly as pos­si­ble. This inclu­ded all kinds of forms known to natu­re and also show­ed some of the mons­tro­si­ties that it can bring forth. With the works he pro­du­ced for this exhi­bi­ti­on Rei­ner Maria Maty­sik shows us the diver­si­ty of life that humans could now bring forth, and likely will bring forth in the future. Pos­si­b­ly com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent noti­ons of the body will domi­na­te that are not ori­en­ted on con­tem­pora­ry norms. And yet the future life forms that Maty­sik jux­ta­po­ses with the spe­ci­mens at times do look a lot like the spe­ci­mens in the glass show­ca­ses. The empty space that gapes bet­ween the artis­ti­cal­ly moti­va­ted objects and the his­to­ric spe­ci­mens is inte­res­ting: we do not see any tech­ni­cal aids, prosthe­ses, or arti­fi­cial­ly crea­ted pro­ducts, which pre­sent the future human being as a cyborg. Tech­no­lo­gi­cal inter­ven­ti­ons in life its­elf are alrea­dy so advan­ced that this can be done at the mole­cu­lar level, and our eyes can no lon­ger dis­tin­guish bet­ween natu­ral orga­nisms and arti­fi­cial orga­nisms. This is not about tech­ni­cal visi­ons of the future poten­ti­al of medi­ci­ne, but rather about the trans­for­ma­ti­on of our noti­on of living orga­nisms. Our con­cept of the human is far older than the tech­no­lo­gy that is at our dis­po­sal today to mani­pu­la­te life. The­re are still strict legal and ethi­cal rules which are clo­se­ly con­nec­ted to the pur­po­se of healing. But what if in the not too distant future living orga­nisms beco­me a pure and pur­po­seless medi­um in which artists, for examp­le, are allo­wed to express them­sel­ves? In the auto­no­mous, organ-like tis­su­es we see enti­ties that the artist pres­ents who­se sta­tus has still to be deter­mi­ned. For me, the Medi­cal Histo­ry Muse­um is the ide­al place to address the­se important ques­ti­ons, which con­cern us all, in a pre­cise situation. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, for the exhi­bi­ti­on jen­seits des men­schen you worked for the first time with wax, a mate­ri­al that has been used from time imme­mo­ri­al in art and sci­ence to con­struct models. What signi­fi­can­ce does the choice of this mate­ri­al have for your exhi­bi­ti­on in the Muse­um of the Charité? 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

Cer­tain­ly, I beca­me inte­res­ted in working with wax through loo­king at the mou­la­ges in the muse­um. But the ques­ti­on of the mate­ri­al should not be view­ed as so important. The decisi­on to use wax is con­nec­ted with the pro­per­ties of the mate­ri­al: trans­pa­ren­cy, fle­shi­ness, warm­th, skin-like. Obvious­ly, wax has a long tra­di­ti­on, which one is con­stant­ly awa­re of when con­fron­ted by objects made from this mate­ri­al. But ulti­mate­ly all means and all mate­ri­als are appro­pria­te when one seeks to con­vey visu­al pre­sence. By this I do not mean the geni­al manu­al skill that shapes from a form­less mass the secret that lies buried wit­hin it. Ins­tead, the work con­sists in making the given appe­ar in a dif­fe­rent light through a shift of context.

The two methods com­ple­ment each other. Objects can­not be com­pre­hen­ded via mate­ria­li­ty, form, sur­face, or colour. They are embed­ded in the con­text in which they appe­ar. With models, for examp­le, clas­si­fi­ca­ti­ons and descrip­ti­ons are a part of the work. Form of pre­sen­ta­ti­on and pre­sen­ted object are an inse­pa­ra­ble unit. This method of working also results in inclu­si­on of the qua­li­ties of the surroundings. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, the exhi­bi­ti­on is in three parts: the wax models in the spe­ci­mens room, the orga­nisms in the lec­tu­re hall ruin, and a »living sculp­tu­re«, which was crea­ted in a labo­ra­to­ry and can only be exhi­bi­ted in the muse­um as a spe­ci­men. For the sculp­tu­re some of your skin was remo­ved by sur­ge­ry, which was then used to grow cell she­ets in the labo­ra­to­ry of the Deut­sches Insti­tut für Zell- und Gewe­be­er­satz. Does the use of this living mate­ri­al mean that you are con­scious­ly taking a step clo­ser to Bio­Art, which seeks pro­xi­mi­ty to and imple­ments the tech­ni­cal methods of the life sciences? 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

I see mys­elf as one of the foun­ders of Bio­Art. Sin­ce child­hood I have been fasci­na­ted by bio­lo­gi­cal mate­ri­al. Without con­scious­ly deci­ding to pur­sue art or sci­ence, the expe­ri­ence of natu­re and in natu­re has long play­ed an important role for me. The ques­ti­on »What is natu­re?« has long been a preoc­cup­a­ti­on of mine. This inte­rest has not disap­peared; only the means wher­eby I pur­sue it have chan­ged. Peop­le from dif­fe­rent parts of the world have posed ques­ti­ons that result from their histo­ry and cul­tu­re about the orga­nic aspect of our exis­tence, and have worked artis­ti­cal­ly with living sub­s­tan­ces using bio­lo­gi­cal methods to pro­du­ce their works. Alrea­dy in 1995, the first year I began to stu­dy, I worked with vege­ta­ti­ve, living mate­ri­al and joi­ned orga­nisms tog­e­ther through graf­ting. Howe­ver, I found that working with living mate­ri­al was too limi­t­ing, too com­plex to orga­ni­se, and too cons­trai­ned by tech­ni­cal, logistic, and legal bar­ri­ers, so I made use of the free­dom that working on the level of models offers. In various pro­jects in the area of art known as Bio­Art, I tend to won­der whe­ther the expe­ri­men­tal set-up is so pro­mi­sing that it jus­ti­fies being rea­li­sed. An examp­le: In 1999 I publis­hed a book on future life forms, which brought gene­tic engi­nee­ring and art tog­e­ther. Back then I asked Alfred Püh­ler, pro­fes­sor of gene­tics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bie­le­feld, if he would publish his work on fluo­re­scence mar­kers in tob­ac­co plants in this con­text. The plants with their glowing green colour that I had been shown ought to be dis­play­ed in an art con­text. To me this was (for the time) a spec­ta­cu­lar rea­dy­m­a­de and I saw no need to modi­fy it unne­cessa­ri­ly or to app­ly this princip­le to other organisms. 

A fur­ther examp­le: In Wil­liam Gibson’s Neu­ro­mancer, ins­tead of a steak the prot­ago­nist is ser­ved »vat­grown fle­sh«. Rese­arch on in vitro meat was com­mis­sio­ned by NASA in 2002; in Nor­way the food rese­arch insti­tu­te Nofi­ma Mat is working on it; and at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utrecht mole­cu­lar bio­lo­gists are doing rese­arch on meat grown from cell cul­tures in the labo­ra­to­ry. Now, with The Remains of Dis­em­bo­di­ed Cui­sine by the 
Tis­sue Cul­tu­re & Art Pro­ject, this visi­on that came from a litera­ry work has arri­ved in art after sci­en­ti­fic rese­arch on spe­cial cases of nut­ri­ti­on. Can an impe­tus be given for deba­te and reflec­tion on what we refer to as the social and poli­ti­cal effects of new bio­tech­no­lo­gies when pro­jects from other con­texts are shown in the art context? 

After my ear­ly work with living plants the­re were only two instan­ces of an inte­res­ting frame­work for working on a mole­cu­lar bio­lo­gi­cal level with living mat­ter. 
At the Hoch­schu­le für bil­den­de Küns­te in Braun­schweig, in the win­ter semes­ter 2003 / 2004 I foun­ded the ibiop. Under the pro­ject tit­le From the bio­mass that you are to new life forms, in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Braun­schweig I explo­red how cour­se con­tent might extend the artis­tic radi­us of ope­ra­ti­on into the fiel­ds of bio­lo­gy and the life sci­en­ces. The decisi­ve ques­ti­on of the eva­lua­ti­on report »Will the­re be a cour­se on bio­lo­gi­cal sculp­tu­re?« was unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly ans­we­red in the nega­ti­ve. Now, the Cha­ri­té is again offe­ring me an inte­res­ting frame­work whe­r­ein I can work with living mat­ter. The basic segre­ga­ti­on into meta­pho­ri­cal and hands-on-sci­ence works only makes sen­se to a cer­tain degree. Many artists use both for their works. One does not necessa­ri­ly have to stand in a labo­ra­to­ry. Some artis­tic posi­ti­ons are assi­gned too quick­ly to the com­plex of Bio­Art. The issu­es and ques­ti­ons that ari­se from the skin pene­tra­ti­ons of the Aus­tra­li­an artist Stel­arc can be deba­ted more pro­duc­tively if the­se are seen in the tra­di­ti­on of Vien­nese action art than in the con­text of BioArt. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, methods deve­lo­ped by mole­cu­lar bio­lo­gy like gene­tic engi­nee­ring or tis­sue engi­nee­ring, and not least syn­the­tic bio­lo­gy enab­le humans to inter­vene in evo­lu­ti­on and pro­bab­ly to pro­du­ce new life forms. In your view, what chal­len­ges will the­se deve­lo­p­ments pre­sent to modern socie­ties and what is the posi­ti­on of art on this issue? 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

Art has a pro­blem at the moment becau­se it is stron­gly ori­en­ted on eco­no­mic pro­fit inte­rests that come from out­side. The ques­ti­on is, the­re­fo­re, does art real­ly want to be redu­ced sole­ly to a com­mo­di­ty, or can it break free of this and pur­sue other inte­rests? For sure, the­re has been art that wan­ted to revo­lu­tio­ni­se art and did not want to »ser­ve the inte­rests of capi­ta­lism«. In my view, art can­not sim­ply relin­quish the pre­sent trans­for­ma­ti­on of the world to ves­ted inte­rests and sci­ence. Qui­te cor­rect­ly, art wants to be invol­ved and in the fore­front to make its own indi­vi­du­al con­tri­bu­ti­on to developments. 

When I began to deve­lop my models, I didn’t know anything about syn­the­tic bio­lo­gy (did the term even exist then?). And now texts on syn­the­tic bio­lo­gy read like an intro­duc­tion to my work. Is my pro­ject in the pro­cess of being over­ta­ken by rea­li­ty? I was perhaps the only per­son working on crea­ting post-evo­lu­tio­na­ry orga­nisms out of non-living mat­ter, and now I find that the­re are other peop­le – not in art, but in sci­ence – who are working on not­hing less than the re-inven­ti­on of nature. 

Inge­borg Reichle

Cur­rent use of the term syn­the­tic bio­lo­gy has main­ly been shaped by Eric Kool’s 2002 report in Che­mi­cal Engi­nee­ring News on inte­gra­ting arti­fi­cial che­mi­cal com­pon­ents in bio­lo­gi­cal sys­tems. The term was used alrea­dy in 1912 in a publi­ca­ti­on of the French bio­lo­gist Sté­pha­ne Leduc, La bio­lo­gie syn­thé­tique. In the same year the Ger­man-Ame­ri­can bio­lo­gist Jac­ques Loeb said that in princip­le it should be pos­si­ble to gene­ra­te arti­fi­cial living systems. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Inge­borg, art out of the labo­ra­to­ry is still a mar­gi­nal phe­no­me­non in the con­tem­pora­ry art sce­ne. And this is in spi­te of the fact that in 2003 the­re were nume­rous exhi­bi­ti­ons cele­bra­ting the dis­co­very of the mole­cu­lar struc­tu­re of DNA by James D. Wat­son and Fran­cis Crick and on the recep­ti­on of gene­tics and the life sci­en­ces in art. What are the con­cerns and appre­hen­si­ons of estab­lis­hed art insti­tu­ti­ons foun­ded on? 

Inge­borg Reichle

It is not only the art insti­tu­ti­ons that have con­cerns but the ent­i­re art mar­ket. The con­tem­pora­ry art sce­ne is not gea­red to the »living« media that some artists employ to rea­li­se their works or con­cepts in the labo­ra­to­ry. A trans­ge­nic rab­bit or a rese­arch expe­di­ti­on in a bio­to­pe in the front gar­den can’t be hung on the wall over the sofa nor is it easy to loca­te them wit­hin an ear­ly or late pha­se of the artist’s œuvre, which is an important fac­tor for an art­work incre­a­sing in value over time. In some respects I see here par­al­lels with the histo­ry of media art, which for a long time was also a mar­gi­nal phe­no­me­non; inde­ed, even today it has not arri­ved in a big way in the estab­lis­hed art insti­tu­ti­ons. To return to your ques­ti­on: the insti­tu­ti­ons that pre­sent the­se art­works to the gene­ral public tend to have a sci­en­ti­fic per­spec­ti­ve, like medi­cal histo­ry muse­ums, natu­ral histo­ry muse­ums, or sci­ence cen­tres. Bio­Ar­tists often refu­se to exhi­bit their works or pro­jects in such venues becau­se they see the insti­tu­ti­ons’ didac­tic con­cerns as deva­lo­rising their art. This descri­bes the dilem­ma of this art movement. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Inge­borg, art histo­ry is less like an archi­ve and more a nar­ra­ti­ve that is repeated­ly re-writ­ten. What con­tri­bu­ti­on are artists who work in labo­ra­to­ries with sci­en­ti­fic tools and methods making to the pre­sent revi­si­on process? 

Inge­borg Reichle

I think it’s too ear­ly to give a sub­stan­ti­al assess­ment of this pro­cess. Howe­ver, this inter­ven­ti­on pro­cess is alrea­dy under­way at art aca­de­mies and uni­ver­si­ties of the arts as well as at a few art histo­ry insti­tu­tes. In this con­nec­tion I should like to men­ti­on The Arts & 
Geno­mics Cent­re, which was foun­ded in 2005 by the art his­to­ri­an Robert Zwi­j­nen­berg and which is affi­lia­ted to both the Art Histo­ry Insti­tu­te and the Che­mi­stry Insti­tu­te of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lei­den. Fur­ther, the­re was also the Sum­mer School Living Mat­ter, Art & Rese­arch & Sci­ence Stu­dies in Bio­lo­gi­cal Labo­ra­to­ries which took place in July 2010 at the Aca­de­my of Media Arts Cologne. 

Ani­ta Hermannstädter

Rei­ner Maria, your call for »acti­ve evo­lu­ti­on«, which with the exhi­bi­ti­on jen­seits des men­schen encroa­ches on the per­pe­tua­ti­on of human evo­lu­ti­on, could be mis­in­ter­pre­ted from an ethi­cal point of view. 

Rei­ner Maria Matysik

Acti­ve evo­lu­ti­on is rather some­thing that I think will come about; it is not some­thing that I am deman­ding. And without a fun­da­men­tal revi­si­on of con­tem­pora­ry ethics con­si­derable dif­fe­ren­ces cer­tain­ly exist. Art as a pro­ject ope­ra­tes out­side of ratio­nal­ly jus­ti­fied con­texts of agree­ment. Aes­the­tic enligh­ten­ment bey­ond pure rea­son ope­ra­tes so to speak in a vacu­um. Then it beco­mes dif­fi­cult for art to find a spring­board to new ter­rain or even ter­ra fir­ma. If it is not situa­ted it counts as a case of dimi­nis­hed respon­si­bi­li­ty or as suf­fe­ring from a loss of rea­li­ty. Is artis­tic work sin­king into a quag­mi­re? Is it just a patho­lo­gi­cal fig­ment of the ima­gi­na­ti­on? If the ans­wer is yes, then for­tu­n­a­te­ly it is in no dan­ger of having to beco­me a pro­du­cer of know­ledge. As the word know­ledge is very much asso­cia­ted with sci­ence, art could seek refe­rence points bey­ond estab­lis­hed logic.

If it chan­ces to find such a basis, then the­re is a pos­si­bi­li­ty of designing com­ple­te­ly new ethics, and not eva­lua­ting the works on the basis of domi­nant con­tem­pora­ry ethics. We are cur­r­ent­ly wit­nessing how the orga­nis­mic is being man­gled, new crea­tures are being con­cei­ved and rea­li­sed at a breath­ta­king pace. If we car­ry out sci­en­ti­fic pro­jects under the direc­tion of artists, then we will have taken a first step.

This inter­view took place in June 2010 in the rooms of the inter­di­sci­pli­na­ry working group Bild­kul­tu­ren at the Ber­lin-Bran­den­burg Aca­de­my of Sciences.