22nd Art Division Critiques
Why Bio is the Next Challenge for Media Art
I was pleasantly surprised when I was asked to join as a juror, both because I am an Artist working mainly with Art & Biology and also because I believe I am the first non-Japanese to be invited to this position.I was also very happy and very curious to be in- volved in the screening and judging process of a the Japan Media Arts Festival and see how - and for what reasons the prizes are awarded.The Art Division of the Japan Media Arts Festival is very special: unlike other festivals, where the organisers can create a topic or set theme, this is not the case here. A neutral call for entries is issued, and it is there- fore not surprising, that a deluge of over 2,500 entries descended on the jurors: ranging from classical media works like Painting, Film, Photography, Sound and Vid- eo to neo-classical one like Interactive Installations and Net Art, up to very trendy, very technology-led entries that focus on Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. Especially the works that dealt with VR - and to a lesser extent - AI, evoked a strong feeling of cultural amnesia. It is not a surprise that artists were working with these topics, technologies and issues in the beginning of the Japan Media Arts Festival - more than 20 years ago. But it comes as a surprise, that while the technologies became more accessible, the artists engagement and critical viewpoint did not evolve very much - in general, it even seemed to regress. There also seems to be a certain tendency in media art to become formulaic and repetitive, we need to take care that this does not be- come conservative and orthodox.We are living in exciting times. As the Computer and Information Technology shaped the 20th century, the 21st century will be - or already is - the century of Biol- ogy and it's technical applications. But what has this to do with media art? The distance between the body and the media, between our senses the apparatus has been steadily decreasing: in the case of moving images from cinema, to television, to the computer screen, to the smartphone screen, it moved closer and closer to the body. But theses 'extensions of man' are meeting their natural limits in the techno-phantasies of cyborgs, augmented humans - and also VR.At the same time, the Biological Sciences are under- going a radical transformation. Until recently, they were a strictly analytical science. It was only possible to read, to observe, to categorise. It was a read-only medium. With emerging gene-editing tools like CRISPR/Cas9 it is now becoming possible to write life on its fundamental level, it became possible to read/write living. And fol- lowing the possibility of read/write operations, Biology itself became the newest - and at the same time: oldest - media. I strongly believe that it is the role of the artist to critically engage in the societal, moral and ethical is- sues that these emerging technologies are evoking.I am looking forward to the entries of the next festival, I do hope there will be more submissions from overseas, and wish that I will be positively surprised by the quality and depth of the entries.