The Strange World of Bioart

Bioart involves the process of using living organisms to engineer a result. It can cover several different products and outcomes, but where it’s made particularly fascinating strides is in the art world at large, with items and exhibitions featuring works made with bacteria, insects, human tissue, and more.

The Strange World of Bioart

The term itself was coined by Eduardo Kac, who had genetically engineer a rabid to be a florescent shade of green, which he referred to then as “transgenic art.” If the future of art seems to be moving toward digital trends and creation, then it shouldn’t be as much of a surprise that it’s taken a sharp turn into a realm that at one point would have been considered the realm of science fiction.

  • The Cactus Project, created by Laura Cinti, uses transgenic techniques to grow human hair on an engineered cactus by incorporating keratin cells into its genetics. The end goal was to create a cactus that would grow something very similar to human hair, and it has been successful.
  • Stelarc, a performance artist who has undergone voluntary surgeries and implants to demonstrate humanity’s connected nature with machinery. Of note is the third, robotic arm, which has attached, and an ear, cultivated from cells, which is attached to his natural left arm. He also engaged in an exhibition wherein his body was connected to electrical stimulation wires, which observers could use to remotely control his body.
  • Orlan, perhaps one of the most extreme of the list of “BioArtists,” engages in the artistic use of cosmetic surgery on her face and body to recreate the look of several famous figures. In her piece, “The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan,” Orlan uses cosmetic surgery to recreate the faces of figures like the Mona Lisa, Venus, and Europa.
  • Genesis, a work by the creator of the term, Eduardo Kac. Kac converted a verse from the bible into morse code, and then coverted that code into genetics, which he then placed into bacterium in a controlled environment, to underline the injection of religion into the nature of the people it effects. His green rabbit, Alba, was created by using transgenic transplants from a jellyfish that produced a green protein that glows a bright green color under a blue light.
The Strange World of Bioart

And in the future.

BioArt’s current limitations lie in machinery, and more specifically, in its size. Some of the BioArtists on this list, like Eduardo Kac and Stelarc, have expressed interest in implanting micromachinery into their bodies, both to relay information and to display different presentations on what the body is, and what it can be. What’s clear from the rise in interest in BioArt is that there’s an ever-growing fascination in how malleable the human body is, and where it may be going in a future where computers can be as small as the cells that compose us. When one considers that most of the cells in the body itself are composed of bacteria, it’s only natural that the artificial seems so compelling.

The Rise of Digital Surrealism

What’s old is new again.

Surrealism is, by no means, a new entrant into the world of art and its many cultures. From some of the greatest works of European masters who shaped much of how we see classical art, to modern art that is sometimes more baffling than it is beautiful, there has always been a touch of the strange in what we treasure. The rise in digital surrealism, however, is noteworthy.

Digital surrealism refers to a new school of thought on the approach to surrealism, using, as the name implies, digital tools to manipulate images and generate works. The end result is something that can look equal parts marketing-friendly, and at the same time, disconcerting. That’s arguably the point. Many digital surrealists work on their own portfolios and galleries, but a few have found success in the world of website creation and graphic design.

The Rise of Digital Surrealism

So what has led to a renewed interest in surrealism, and in particular, digital surrealism?

The Rise of Digital Surrealism
  • A newer generation of artists, from schools across the world, are taking advantage of the tools and networking that’s available. Now, more than ever, it’s easier to generate artwork with a computer. That’s led to a great rise in digital art itself over the past two decades, but it’s also created muddied waters for artists that want to set themselves apart. Aside from the sheer technical skill and training that’s required for creating the incredibly complex digital art that many of us take for granted, there is also an ongoing battle against creating something that is so beautiful, so complex, that the viewer immediately knows it is fake. The crowded field, combined with the “cramped” aesthetic of CGI, has left a vacuum in digital art that digital surrealism seems to fit quite naturally into.
  • The possibilities can be staggering, because digital surrealism also does something the old masters could not; the manipulation of photographs in dimensions and clarity that are either close to, or even exactly matching, the original allows for a much wider breadth of possibilities for what digital surrealism can do. Examples of these works may include simple profile shots or mug shots of people as subjects, digitally altered to create effects that are well within what we would call the surreal. Photographic elements are also simple to incorporate into other works, whereas at one point, you may have merely relied on the printing press to get the job done.

Is digital surrealism a replacement for the original? The answer is likely to be no: Surrealism relies on the ability to create sublime disconnection, something that we can certainly disarm through becoming accustomed to. Still in its relative infancy, digital surrealism’s place in art history is by no means a contender with those of the greatest names in the original movement. That isn’t to say there isn’t time for it to grow, of course. On the contrary– it has a massive head start to do so.

Mathematics and Art, Part 2: Escher’s Labyrinths

Born in 1898, Maurits Cornelis Escher lived a relatively quiet life as far as recognition goes, until sometime in the 1950’s, when his work caught the attention, and imagination, of the world at large. Escher was famous for creating artwork that not only challenged our perception of space, but f math as well. He created spaces which are impossible to recreate in the real world, and even mathematically impossible. With something as simple as a staircase that continues to both go down and go up, he created an impression that continues to fascinate viewers to this day.

Mathematics and Art, Part 2: Escher's Labyrinths

Some of his more recognized works include:

  • “Relativity,” perhaps one of his best known works, was a lithograph printed in 1953. In the piece, the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply, and instead are put aside for an architecture that has doors, stairs, and balconies that all seem to be at odds with one another. Featuring sixteen different characters, each spread out across three potential gravity sources, Escher made use of perspective, and the mathematics needed to draw planes and proper lines, to instead create a surreal composition depicting multiple paradoxes.
  • “Gravitation,” a piece which first appeared as a black and white lithograph and which was then colored, features a non-convex regular polyhedron. Each facet of the shape features its own doorway, from which emerge the heads and legs of several turtles. No shell is depicted; instead, the shared polyhedron is implied to be their common shell.
  • “Circle Limit III,” a woodcut piece which Escher himself said was inspired by a triangular hyperbolic tiling piece. Circle Limit III is an exercise in geometry, wherein the arrangement of lines depicts repeating blue, red, yellow, and green fish patterns that are both interlocking with one another, and within their respective triangles. Mathematicians have noted that, when the fish themselves are removed from the equation, the actual plane of the woodcut has both triangular and square “rotational symmetry,” wherein the symmetry is implied to be viewable at any perspective on the spherical shape.
Mathematics and Art, Part 2: Escher's Labyrinths

An Influence on Math

By creating these strange spaces and visual representations of complex mathematical ideas, Escher’s impact was twofold: On one side, he had opened the art world to an astounding number of surreal ideas regarding tricks with perspective that went beyond the typical optical illusion that artists before him had utilized. On the other, he was able to actually capture some very complex ideas and shapes, including convex polygons, and had made them into patterns that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were mathematically fascinating.

Mathematics and Art, Part 2: Escher's Labyrinths

No stranger to the Golden Ratio, Escher also created works that followed the golden sum, which should come as no surprise given his affinity for symmetry. In his own words, "Mathematicians have opened the gate leading to an extensive domain." Today, we see a continued trend toward abstract and surrealist work through digital means, some of which owe their perspectives to the pioneer.

Mathematics and Art, Part 1: The Golden Ratio

The “Golden Ratio,” as it is popularly known, is the concept of two quantities having a golden ratio so long as their ratio is the same number as their sum. Represented by the Greek symbol “Phi,” it’s been a popular source of discussion and theory for 2,400 years. Great minds in virtually every scientific field have considered it to be a guiding post by which they study the human body, architecture, nature, and even matters of the spirit.

Mathematics and Art, Part 1: The Golden Ratio

With such an incredibly weighty principle, it’s no wonder that so many artists have also been influenced by the Golden Ratio, wittingly or otherwise. In the case of those who were unaware, the properties of the golden ratio lend themselves well to matters of symmetry, including what we personally find to be visually, or even audibly, appealing.

  • The Vitruvian Man, created by Leonardo Da Vinci, was actually based on Vitruvia, who was convinced that temple planning needed to rely on symmetry, which, in turn, we base upon our own human proportions. It’s debatable as to whether or not Da Vinci designed the Vitruvian Man with the Golden Ratio in mind, but there are those that believe that Da Vinci used these concepts in this work, and in his even more famous work, the Mona Lisa.
  • Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” made use of the golden ratio, in the form of a golden rectangle. Competed after World War 2, and making use of optical illusions, the Sacrament of the Last Supper depicts the typical scene of Jesus Christ and his apostles, but is of note because it not only uses surrealism, but mathematics as well.
  • Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is also said to have used Phi in its composition. Known then as “The Divine Proportion,” the Golden Ratio is evident in the entire piece, down to the dimensions of the canvas by the centimeter. The entire work is said to be entirely too precise in its dimensions and focus to be anything but a Golden Ratio-influenced painting, down to the frame itself.
  • “The Amen Break,” a famous drum line performed by the band The Winstons in their song, “Amen Brother,” is believed to fall within the realm of the Golden Ratio. The break is prevalent throughout the music of the 1970’s, 80’s, and on, still used to this day at many different speeds. If you’ve heard a song with a drum loop, there’s an extremely good chance that it is the Amen Break in some form or fashion.
Mathematics and Art, Part 1: The Golden Ratio

In sculpture, art, and even in music, the Golden Ratio has proven to be a nearly endless source of inspiration and guidance for those who want to create meaningful, lasting contributions to the craft. With the increasing use of computers to create digital works, it becomes even more apparent that there will be more works that fit within the ratio. Impressive staying power for a simple rectangle.

Man Versus Machine

Art for the masses, but at what cost?

In 1998, Cher released a single called “Believe,” which went on to hit the #1 spot in 23 different charts worldwide. It was also one of the first songs to use technology called “Auto-Tune,” a tool which the world has since become all too familiar with. With Auto-Tune, it became possible to alter a person’s voice to match the pitch of a song. This was, by no means, a new feat, but in the case of “Believe,” the effect was so exaggerated that it became a trademark sound that went on to influence other artists.

 

While many have since bemoaned the prominence of Auto-Tune in the pop music charts, what the technology showed us all was a true lesson in what’s possible when you’ve got a computer and you know exactly how to use it. It became clear that nearly any singer, regardless of experience or level of talent, could have their voice changed and mutated until it became studio-quality. Whether or not the effect was obvious, the cat was officially out of the bag.

Man Versus Machine

See You in the Funny Pictures

The rise of digital manipulation wasn’t limited to music. Use of Adobe’s “Photoshop” tool also caused a spike in how we view photography, and models, particularly those used in marketing and advertising campaigns. While picturesque models were seemingly abundant before the invention of Photoshop, its success as a media editing program led to a massive rise in the amount of blemish-free, perfectly modeled human beings in magazines, on posters, and online.

Instagram, too, along with increasingly sharp photographic resolutions on smartphone, have given their own rise to amateur photographers that produce works approaching the quality of the real thing. Even amateur filmmakers can record video at stunning quality and frame rates on something as simple as a $400 iPhone, compared to digital cameras used by studios which can set a buyer back tens of thousands of dollars. Case in point; “Tangerine,” one of the biggest hits from the Sundance Film Festival of 2015, was shot on an iPhone 5S.

All of this leads to one question: Is there still value in the professional artist? Some historians and researchers have theorized that the roots of art were buried deep in inequality of resources; artists were seen are more highly prized because they were able to purchase expensive oils and supplies to create their works. When the playing field is entirely even, what, then, is the value of the artist?

Man Versus Machine

What’s clear is that there are more amateur and professional artists now than there have been in the past, and with automation making things easier all the time, that number is only going up. The important thing isn’t so much to push back against the rising tide, but to study its trends, its strengths, and its deficiencies. The move, then, may be from one of resources, to one of human perspective, something that machines haven’t copied.

Famous Art Heists

A brief history of stolen glances.

A popular staple of heist movies is that of stealing art. One might argue that valuable gem heists fall into this category, but what tends to capture the imagination more is the idea of a seasoned criminal making off with some of history’s most well know and beloved visuals. Whether it’s the works of Van Gogh, hastily cut and rolled before being thrown into a duffel bag, or priceless artifacts of antiquity that detail the rich history of the Egyptians and the Greeks, it’s a nearly universal point of interest, and one that itself has roots in real events.

Famous Art Heists

Although not quite as thrilling as the movies, many of these art heists are responsible for incredible stories, tragic and otherwise.

Famous Art Heists
  • The Mona Lisa was famously pilfered in 1911 by an employee at the Louvre by the name of Vincenzo Peruggia. Initially discovered to be missing by a painter named Louis Beroud, the Mona Lisa vanished for two years. Of note: Pablo Piccaso was actually questioned after being implicated by friend and French Poet Guillaume Appollionaire.Peruggia kept the masterpiece in his apartment, and was only caught when he attempted to sell it.
  • Pablo Picasso himself became the post-mortem victim of art theft when his sketches were stolen from the University of Michigan’s traveling art exhibit, along with works by Henry Moore, a sculptor from Briain. Federal agents found the sketches at a California auction house, but there were no arrests made in the case.
  • A Rembrant piece was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972, along with assorted jewelry, other paintings, and figurines, all valued at around $2 million USD at the time, and $10.9 Million USD today. None of the stolen art pieces have been recovered.
  • In a case of insurance fraud, in 1999 a Los Angeles doctor by the name of Steven Cooperman actually arranged to have two extremely expensive paintings by Picasso and Monet stolen from his home so that he could collect $17.5 Million USD in the insurance policy. He was sentenced and convicted for the crime.
  • A five-fingered museum was found in 2001, when it was revealed that a man by the name of Stephane Breitweiser has stolen a staggering 238 pieces of art from different museums throughout Europe, with the intent of creating of his very own collection. While he was caught and convicted for these crimes, his mother destroyed over 60 different paintings, most likely as an attempt to destroy evidence.
  • And when times get particularly tough, some thieves turn to stealing metal to sell for scrap, as they did in the case of Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure 1969-70” sculpture in 2005. Weighing in at over 2 tonnes, the statue was stolen by use of a crane. Worth Ј3m as artwork, its scrap value was estimated to instead be Ј1,500 proving that one’s valuation of art can sometimes be as subjective as times demand.
Famous Art Heists

Although not quite as thrilling as the movies, many of these art heists are responsible for incredible stories, tragic and otherwise.

Easy to Digest: Culinary Art, at Extremes

Not simply an art in name alone, the culinary arts have their own takes on artistic expression and creativity that go beyond flavor and proper cooking technique. Many culinary artists choose to use the medium in some very novel ways.

Easy to Digest: Culinary Art, at Extremes

Sushi

  • At its core, sushi is a simple idea. One part rice with vinegar, one part seaweed, and a changing menu of different ingredients therein create, more often than not, a roll or a wrapped food. Sushis got an extremely long history, going back decades, but it wasn’t until the 1800’s that it became available in its more familiar form. In 1983, the word was introduced into the Oxford English dictionary.
  • And at its extremes, the complexity of making these rolls has been a lifelong pursuit for chefs worldwide. One of note is Hironori Ikeno, who created sushi that is placed on a single grain of rice. The work itself actually began as a joke with a customer, wherein Ikeno would serve extremely small pieces of sushi. He then experimented with just how small he could get the food, until he found that, indeed, it would fit on a single grain.
Easy to Digest: Culinary Art, at Extremes

Candy

  • At its core, candy can be many things to many people, but all of them require some sweetness. Sugar is the key ingredient, and it can be used on its own, or combined with different ingredients to create a food. The origins of sugar itself seem to go back to early Persian and Greek explorers and their treks through India, where they discovered sugarcane. Previous to this, they relied on honey as their key sweetener. Candies made from honey existed, but with sugar, it was possible to create the product with agriculture, instead of bee keeping. In the 13th century, the term “candy” was coined.
  • And at its extremes, sugar sculptures are equal parts artistry and engineering. Crafted with the use of heated sheets of candy that are rolled and molded, not unlike the creation of glass, sugar sculpturing is a delicate art, and one that is featured in contests throughout the world. The world’s tallest was recorded at 12 feet, 10 inches, and took roughly 11 hours to construct.
Easy to Digest: Culinary Art, at Extremes

Coffee

  • At its core, coffee is a staple many cannot live without. Brewed simply with water and roasted coffee beans, coffee dates as far back as the 9th century according to some accounts. Earlier users simply chewed the bean, which begins life as a berry. According to one account, a man by the name of Sheikh Omar chewed the bean, found it to be tough, and then attempted to boil it to soften it. When the water turned to its trademark deep brown color, he then drank it, and found that he was energized for days. If the stories are to be believed, he was given sainthood for the act.
  • And at its extremes, latte art is a growing trend with baristas that make use of an espresso machine and creative uses of the top layer of foam. Simple shapes can be drawn on the layer, drawing in portions of the white surface to draw intricate shapes, curves, and patterns.

Art in China, Part 2: A Change in Focus

In part 1 of this article series, Ai Weiwei and Zhao Zhao were discussed as part of a focus on the political resistance that is present in China’s art scene, but that doesn’t necessarily meant that the rest of China’s prominent artists take the same tact.

Art in China, Part 2: A Change in Focus
  • The environment is of huge concern in Chinese society. Stories of air pollution might be thought to either be exaggerated, if you’re the Chinese authority, or perhaps under reported, if you’re one of the citizens in one of many of China’s industrial centers, breathing in the air. What has come to the forefront for many Chinese artists, then, is a criticism and a framing of that environmental situation. Pollution, themes of industrialization and its effects on the soul, and the general daily threats that every citizen can face due to poor regulations on air quality all have become quite popular in the artwork of many prominent young Chinese artists.
  • Criticism of consumerism is also a constant theme. With a vast amount of Chinese citizens living in rural conditions, and severe poverty, there has always been the counterbalance of a focus for the average consumer on luxury items, including many aesthetics of Western culture which were once seen as corrupting influences under the Maoist regime. These days, that consumerism is seen as a form of social decay; artists like William Zhao seek to mock that consumerism and focus on luxury through vast sculpture exhibits.
  • The market pushes demand, which is somewhat ironic given the last paragraph, but the rising market for artwork in China means that there are artists who don’t enjoy starving, and instead wish to enjoy prominence. That means that they will move toward what buyers want, and what buyers seem to want in the market right now are abstract pieces. From metal sculpture work, to abstract paintings, both mainland and Hong Kong artists are taking note of the trend, and moving with it accordingly.
Art in China, Part 2: A Change in Focus

Is Political Art Still Powerful?

It’s also worth noting that, while there are artists who wish to, or even do, express opinions which don’t always align with the government’s message, many also simply don’t wish for reprisals that can come with activism. Younger artists in particular, who didn’t grow up under a more brutal regime, may not see it as the best course of action.

Art in China, Part 2: A Change in Focus

Zhao Zhao and his contemporaries still enjoy global success, and recognition, for their works, but they also live in constant fear of the government’s response. With so much riding on the line for an artist who may not even know if their work will be received well, it’s easy to see why the move toward abstract, conceptual art may be a road more commonly chosen. Some in Hong Kong still lean heavily toward criticism of the government, but the rising art market in China has meant less rabble rousing, and more appealing to private collectors and galleries.

Art in China, Part 1: A Wild Season

A look at Ai Wei Wei and his Protege, Zhao Zhao

Art in China, Part 1: A Wild Season

In many parts of the world, the expression of political outrage through art is not only celebrated, but even protected by law. Many take for granted that they are allowed to create those works, and to protest as they see fit, whereas in China, the situation can be quite dangerous. The Chinese government has a long history on putting intense pressure, both social and physical, on those who speak out against policy.

Of those artists in recent history who have captured the attention of the world based on their willingness to speak out, either through their words or through their art, few have had the luminescence of Ai Weiwei, an artist who went to prison for charges of “tax evasion,” an allegation that the artist claims was never materialized through evidence. When a government fears an artist, that’s usually a good indicator that the world should take note.

Art in China, Part 1: A Wild Season

The Growth of Ai Weiwei

Born in 1957, Ai Weiwei’s family was went to a labor camp when he was a mere one year old, and afterwards, exiled, never to return to Beijing until the death of Mao Zedong. His work began when he enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy at the age of 20, and expanded through his time living in New York City. Influenced by the works of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp.

Tirelessly outspoken on matters of Chinese human rights and the political system, Ai Weiwei’s works span different genres and themes, themselves worthy of a sizable collection. Ai has dabbled in sculpture, photography, and writing, including blogging on the internet. Although born into a much older generation than what we typically associate with internet activism, Ai’s support of, and from, social media has proven that his message is just as potent now as it was when he began his life as a firebrand on the global political scene.

A Legacy in Zhao Zhao

At age 30, Zhao Zhao is from a different generation than Wei, having not grown up under the Maoist regime. He has his own turbulent history, with his family having also been exiled at a different time. The two became close due to similar circumstances and interests in political art and activism, and the result has been a rise in Zhao’s prominence in the world art scene, as well as in China’s list of concerns.

With such contention that he, and others, fear that even public display of his works in a gallery could result in a negative reaction from the government, there is nevertheless a rising market for art in China that has become enamored with a younger generation that isn’t afraid to speak their minds. Where Ai Weiwei caught the eye of the world, it’s entirely possible that Zhao Zhao could have just as large an impact on China itself, just as long as the government doesn’t silence him in the process.