Vital Dependencies: Synthetic Bio-Art and Infrastructures of Care
Assistant Professor, Department of Art History
Director, Art History Gallery
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Synthetic biology builds or modifies organisms at the molecular level in order to generate life, while tissue engineering grows biological substitutes at the level above the cell. These current biotechnologies can be situated within wider political and philosophical determinations of vitality that are revisited when scientific developments challenge us to retool our understanding of how, and our expectations of how long, each of us might live. Attending to these changing qualifications of life, a burgeoning range of contemporary art experiments in synthetic fabrication join company with the Tissue Culture and Art Project, as well as protocell and breeding architectures, in order to intervene in the generation and maintenance of new living forms. As these artistic and techno-scientific practices converge, the encounters and exchanges between various scales of matter metabolize infrastructural relationships and precarious dependencies that care for, and potentially regenerate, cellular to human life.
Jennifer Johung received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. Since then, she has been assistant professor of art history, and director of the Art History Gallery at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where she is also affiliated faculty in two graduate programs (Media Studies, and Buildings/Landscapes/Cultures). She has published articles on topics ranging from performance, visual, and urban studies to new media and biotechnology. Her first book, Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art, was just published by the University of Minnesota Press in December. Her edited volume on Landscapes of Mobility: Culture, Politics and Placemaking is forthcoming from Ashgate Press, and her new book project, Vital Architectures was recently awarded seed funding from the University of Wisconsin’s Research Growth Initiative. In addition to her research, she is actively involved in commissioning new artwork, collaborating with artists, and curating exhibitions from Milwaukee to Los Angeles through her own organization, Jennifer Johung Projects. A group exhibition, Replacing Home, based on her book, is currently on view at the JAUS gallery in Santa Monica.