Biological Agents

Curated by Christa Donner and Andrew Yang

Artists: Brandon Ballengée, Caitlin Berrigan, and Natalie Jeremijenko

The complexities of our contemporary life fundamentally challenge the way we understand ourselves as biological entities within larger ecosystems. Biological Agents focuses on the work of Brandon Ballengée, Caitlin Berrigan, and Natalie Jeremijenko: three artists who engage the intimate participation of organisms and the public alike, examining what it means to be human, to be animal, and to have personal and social agency. The exhibition also features the Knowledge Virus Research Station, which offers printed and online resources and information on biological topics from a variety of creative perspectives as well as a Biological Agents events series.

The emerging practices of BioArt move within and between the disciplines of science and art, challenging the standing dichotomy. The intentions and presentations of the art within this broad categorization are many and varied, ranging from the aestheticization of biological processes to laboratory work that is introspective and deeply political. In each case, such work raises new questions about the ethics, the aesthetics, and the culture of our scientific and technological interventions in the biological world, and the work does so in a way that neither art nor science alone could generate.

The artwork presented in Biological Agents confronts the tension between the authority of scientific knowledge on the one hand and personal and collective participation on the other, posing pro-active models for inquiry and communication within the biological realm. In conjunction with the exhibition, artist Claire Pentecost led a discussion following a screening of the film Marching Plague by Critical Art Ensemble and the film Strange Culture by Lynn Hershman Leeson, which documents events following the death of Hope Kurtz, wife of Steve Kurtz, and a fellow member of Critical Art Ensemble. Also, in November, Lennard Davis, UIC professor of English Literature and Medical Humanities, led a panel discussion on BioArt with Lori Andrews, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Hannah Higgins, UIC Associate Professor of Art History; and Andrew Yang, co-curator and biologist. Through events, research stations, workshops, and collaborative artworks, Biological Agents engages directly with public communities, environments, and even other species, allowing otherwise passive viewers and scientific subjects a means to exercise their agency as active biological participants.

According to curators Christa Donner, professor of Studio Arts at UIC, and Andrew Yang, professor of Biology and Liberal Arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago:

“The three artists featured in Biological Agents—Brandon Ballengée, Caitlin Berrigan, and Natalie Jeremijenko—present intriguing and pro-active models of practice that engage the biological in ways that require the intimate participation of both organisms and the public in equal measure. Through direct collaborations in the field and in the gallery, they connect our multiple roles as biological hosts and biological agents alike. Their work succeeds in carefully, critically, and humorously exploring what it means to be human, to be animal, and to have personal and social agency in the complex ecologies we are all a part of.”

Biological Agents was co-organized with Lennard Davis and Project Biocultures.

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