I think bioart is the most exciting space to be creating work in the contemporary art world today. Bioart uses living organisms or once living organisms as material for art making, or in collaboration with other organisms, and sometimes involves the tools of biotechnology, transgenics, and genetic engineering – to prod into, critique, and speculate on these technologies – and the bioethics, societal, and cultural repercussions of these technologies. I think Kirksey and Helmreich summed it up well: »If Foucault understood biopolitics as the disciplinary forms for the optimization, coercion, and control of biology, then bioart organizes itself around them to divert, derail, or expose those domination regimes and life management systems.«
SP: Can you observe a special interest in bioart and biotechnology within the East Bay art community that you are part of?
TR: A lot of biotech companies and startups are in the Bay Area, such as Genentech and 23andMe. CRISPR, the revolutionary gene editing mechanism that naturally exists within bacteria, was discovered by Jennifer Doudna and her team in Berkeley; and there is the ODIN, the first company to sell DIY CRISPR kits online, based out of Oakland. There is also a biohacking space called Counter Culture Labs. I am a part of that community and lead an art-science program. Because this biotechnological landscape makes up a large part of the Bay Area, I feel it is an important and necessary topic to create work around and critique it through the lens of art. The Bay Area has been home to a lot of experimentation and cross-pollination within arts and technology, so it feels natural to be working within this space here; it is prime ground to explore these bigger themes and issues. Surprisingly, there are not a lot of bioartists in the Bay Area, but there is a growing scene emerging within this multilayered landscape.
»Yes, it is a mutant world, Gaia is a hot mess, and we are a part of Gaia so we are existing deep within that. But the only way to be alive during this time is to live ecstatically. For me, that involves making art about entangled ecologies, learning from other organisms, and sometimes rolling in the dirt and putting bioplastics on my body.«
SP: The online DIY recipe and storybook aims to refigure materials and methods for radically remaking the historically dominant petrochemically derived plastic materials that we use in our everyday lives. Where did this idea start and why did you choose the format of a cookbook to address this topic?
TR: I was inspired by a few different cookbooks, especially the Additivist Cookbook, which looks into 3D printing and other technologies (or »reverse-engineering these technologies«) as a tactic to subvert and refigure petrochemical plastics and other systemic social and cultural issues through curated projects involving material activisms, speculative imaginings, critical texts, and more.
In a similar spirit, I wanted to create a cookbook of recipes for new materials, especially alternatives to petrochemical plastics, and interweave stories and research; and in the spirit of both the Additivist and Anarchist cookbook, include ecophilosophical approaches to making, and a manifesto (still in the works). I think in the spirit of DIY culture, radical accessibility and punk ethos – the zine has become a website – as it is accessible by all, so a cookbook as a website with open-source protocols with multispecies science, with fact and fiction, seemed like the perfect fit.