SymbioticA on Science Network

A LABORATORY in Perth is using the artistic medium to explore unchartered territories and ask some of the most culturally sensitive questions raised by the rapidly expanding power of life sciences.

Oron Catts is the artistic director at “SymbioticA: The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts” in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia (UWA).

Mr Catts says, “…science is largely about generating knowledge and we need to provide meaning to that knowledge”.

“That’s where we come in.”

Through residencies, workshops, exhibitions and symposiums, the artistic laboratory supports artists and researchers to “engage in wet biology”.

Projects include the creation of hand-made human and pig skin art books, recording the audio decay of living organisms and growing objects from tissue culture.

While each project explores different conceptual and literal implications, Mr Catts says as a whole, SymbioticA is important because “…cultural perceptions of life are increasingly becoming incompatible with what we know about life through technology”.

“There’s a growing gap between how the culture relates to life. This needs to be probed and explored further, in order to make sense of it.

“Science needs science communicators but the role of art is different.

“We try to engage with the issues that science raises, that are problematic for us as a culture and as a society.

“We are trying to find new ways to do this, as we have no language to confer some of the issues. So we use visual, non-verbal ways to produce objects that would require people to stop and think.”

Dr Ionat Zurr, SymbioticA’s Academic Coordinator and ongoing resident, says SymbioticA “…suggests alternative scenarios and ways of thinking, in regards to the dominant or commercial”.

However, she says it is important not to think of art and science as a dichotomy.

“We work with scientists too. When you work with life sciences there are many aspects that need to be critiqued from an informed position.”

SymbioticA was established in 2000 by cell biologist Professor Miranda Grounds, neuroscientist Professor Stuart Bunt and artist Oron Catts and was awarded the Golden Nica for Hybrid Arts in the Prix Ars Electronica for “transgressing boundaries and disciplines”.

“We have positioned ourselves internationally as one of the pioneers in this field,” Mr Catts says.

However, in Perth, he says “We have been flying under the radar for quite a long time and there are very few appropriate venues to show this type of work”.

However, SymbioticA is still flooded by international invitations.

“People can approach us through the website or show up on a Friday meeting, we’re very casual and we’re happy to have scientists come along,” Mr Catts says.

SymbtioticA holds regular Friday seminars at UWA, to find out more visit

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