CRISPR, that old dress and what Art is

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BioArt is entering the genome-editing era. The first CRISPR artwork is a World War II dress, patched with silk and bacteria by British bioartist Anna Dumitriu. You can read more about its science and meaning in the CRISPR Journal and Labiotech. But where does the dress come from? And if this is art indeed, what about the galloping horse CRISPRed by George Church last year? I asked Dumitriu, please find the answers below. 

The women’s suit in “Make Do and Mend”, and the dress for the companion piece called “Controlled Commodity” were sourced from various places but basically they were hunted down on online shops/auctions from reputable dealers after months and many long months of looking for the ideal pieces. I often use antique textiles in my work. They are original CC41 pieces with the well known logo stamped on the labels.

I don’t know anything about the people that wore the clothes, their stories are lost. But my parents previously owned clothes and furniture with the mark on them. In fact the dining table we had when I was growing up was a CC41 piece that they’d bought after they married (towards the later part of the period). Lots of styles of clothes were available from several years but I chose the dresses that conformed to the fashions of 1941, and their somewhat military style.

In terms of Church’s CRISPR image storage technique being art, you are basically asking me to define Art and then asking whether it conforms to that category. This is pretty impossible to do as no philosopher has fully succeeded in defining art. Whether something is art or not may depend on the viewer, the artist’s intention, whether the maker defines themselves as an artist or not, the purpose, the context (gallery, cave wall, street advert) etc… or it may not. It may be that some things are A Priori art.

I suppose I would ask whether you see other forms of video compression as art? Or whether that category is broadly accepted to be a category of art? Or if you think anything with a visual component is art? I’m not saying it’s not (I’m certain there are cases where video compression glitches are indeed art), but I don’t know if Church had a specific aesthetic intention in terms of art in doing this research, although the project is certainly of interest to artists. You would need to ask him. I can say the intention of my work is art but I cannot speak for him or his colleagues.

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