Bodily Matters conference at University College London, UK


BODILY MATTERS: Human Biomatter in Art. Materials / Aesthetics / Ethics  at University College London Institute of Advanced Studies, London, UK.

Conference July 7th ~ 8th 2016


(L) Andy Warhol, Oxidation Painting (1978) Copper, metallic pigment and urine on canvas.
(C) Marc Quinn, Self (2006-15) Blood, liquid silicone, stainless steel, glass, perspex and refrigeration equipment.
(R) Andrew Krasnow, Hollow Muscle (2006) Human skin.

From Andy Warhol’s oxidation paintings, made using urine, to Andrew Krasnow’s two and three-dimensional artworks utilising human skin, Bill Fink’s meticulously constructed images created with human hair, to Marc Quinn’s blood-sculpture series Self – and Rose-Lynn Fisher’s photographic series Topography of Tears – the human body has been used not merely as the subject of art works, but also as their substance. Diverse in terms of their image and object-making practices, and encompassing casting and sculptural processes, drawing, painting and photography, these artworks nevertheless have one thing in common: they can all be considered to be examples of what we term “biomaterial” artworks.

The human body has long provided a source of interest for artists, as both the subject and object of a wide range of artistic practices throughout history and across cultures. The body in art has been the subject of an extensive and growing literature that engages with themes as diverse as the history of anatomy and the arts, contemporary performance art, body modification practices such as tattooing, bioart practices that utilise living matter as its new media, and extensive feminist and queer readings of art, power and politics. Whilst the human body thus remains an important concern for scholars studying visual and material culture in fields such as art history, anthropology and the medical humanities, little scholarly attention has been paid to modern and contemporary art practices that use the raw material of the human body itself in the production of artworks.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to address this by examining the creative manipulation and use of human biological matter in the production of artworks, their display and critical reception. Artworks in all media will be considered, providing that human biomatter has been used in the production of the work. The conference aims to explore all forms of biomatter-as-art-medium, in multiple forms: Body fluids such as blood, semen, tears, milk and vomit; excreta such as faeces, urine and sweat; skin and adnexa such as hair and nails; bone and teeth; organs and whole bodies; and cell cultures and DNA. Human bodily materials are frequently invested with highly symbolic cultural power and complex visceral and emotional entanglements, thus the use of human biomatter as art medium opens up an intriguing cultural space to reflect critically upon the relationships between materiality, aesthetics, affective response, ethics and the production of cultural meaning.

WhiteFeather presented the paper, The witch in the lab coat: Conjuring flesh onto mesh via a screencast video presentation and answered questions live via Skype following the presentation.

A small mention in the online blog, We Make Money, Not Art.

Conference schedule: Bodily Matters Programme.

More information on the conference here.

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