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SEI News: Professor Oron Catts & ‘Living Biological Objects on the Pedestal’

On Thursday 24 May 2018, join Professor Oron Catts, the Director of SymbioticA, at The University of Western Australia for the for the HumanNature Lecture Series. Catts’ lecture will delve into the intriguing possibilities that emerge when art meets biology and explores the question: what is life?

Mystery art Photographer: Kathie Hodge © CreativeCommons - Some rights reserved

Oron Catts is an artist, researcher, curator and the director of SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Human Sciences, The University of Western Australia.  SymbioticA is an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement with the life sciences. SymbioticA is the first research laboratory of its kind, enabling artists and researchers to engage in wet biology practices in a biological science department. It also hosts residents, workshops, exhibitions and symposia. With an emphasis on experiential practice, SymbioticA encourages better understanding and articulation of cultural ideas around scientific knowledge and informed a critique of the ethical and cultural issues of life manipulation.

Catts’ pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project which he established in 1996 is considered a leading biological art project. The project is ongoing and explores the use of tissue technologies in artistic practice. The Project probes accepted ideas of life and identity, the concept of self, and the place of human beings in regard to other living beings and the environment.

In discussing the Tissue Culture and Art Project, Dr. Lindsay Kelley, Lecturer in Art & Design at the University of New South Wales and contributor for the HumanNature series, explains that:

“Oron Catts has developed a collaborative “contestable design” practice that has defined a critical vocabulary for art-science friction and cooperation. Working with Ionat Zurr (and others) as the Tissue Culture and Art Project, Catts has interrogated life itself by troubling the promissory rhetoric surrounding lab-grown meat, the “extended bodies” of “semi-living” flesh, and the utopian narratives that conjure problematic visions of victimless futures. With Devon Ward, Catts recently debuted Vapour Meat [HP0.3.1] alpha: Essentials of a Hyperdiet (2018), a system that uses scent and vaping to posit meat as vapourware. In the workshop accompanying this lecture, Catts will engage with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to ask after the many ways in which we are promised salvation through control of living systems.”

At the upcoming HumanNature lecture, Catts will explore the role that art has played and continues to play in shifting understandings of what life is and does. What are the stakes—social, ethical, ontological— in manipulating living forms for artistic purposes? What are the consequences, both intended and not, of placing artworks/lifeforms into diverse cultural contexts, from the gallery to the museum?

For more information on Catts’ work on lab-grown meat, see his article titled Weighing up lab-grown steak: the problems with eating meat are not Silicon Valley’s to solve’ published by The Conversation.

For more information on Catts’ research and creative practice, see this article for Cosmos Magazine.   


Oron Catts’ lecture is the fourth in the HumanNature series, which is jointly funded and coordinated by the Australian Museum, the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, and the University of Sydney. The Series features leading international scholars in the Environmental Humanities and aims to highlight the key research and developments to come out of the environmental humanities and will feature environmental humanities scholars who are renowned in their fields. Stay tuned for more profiles on keynote speakers in the months to come.

For more details and to purchase tickets for ‘Cultures of Climate’, click here.

Please note that tickets are available to staff and students at the four partner universities at the discounted rate of $8. These tickets must be booked in advance using the discount code: ENVHUM18.