The whole of human existence has always been divided between things that are natural, and things that are artificial, but nowadays it seems that the primary ability of the human being to distinguish the 'real' from the 'fake' has been weakened by what is named 'technological innovation'.
Throughout the history of science, the capability to manipulate life in all its forms has increased and changed several times, tightening the relationship between technology and biological systems.
In 1675, Anton van Leeuwenhoek observes microorganisms through the microscope; in 1857 Gregor Mendel discovers heredity; in 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick disclose the double helix structure of DNA; in 1994 the US Food and Drugs Administration approves the first GMO tomato; and in 1997 the Roslin Institute produces the first clone of a mammal: Dolly the sheep.
The chronology of technological progress brings with it a series of radical changes that strongly influences perceptions of everyday life, instigating a sense of hesitation towards what is not directly ascribable to the sphere of real, natural, life.
The truth is that once triggered, technological progress could never be stopped. It is legitimated as the answer to the needs of the human species, which is evolving and mutating into more specific and articulated demands in terms of personal identity.
Thus, plastic surgery, genetic modification, artificial intelligence, cosmetic treatment, biomedical experiments become forms of manipulated life claimed by human evolution.
And, even if we consider it to be alarming or non-natural, of course, we need it. As evolving humans, we crave it.
We always demand to control the future. We want the future to make us stronger, smarter, and eternal.
In their work titled Heirloom (2016), artist Gina Czarnecki and Professor John Hunt re-elaborate the traditional genre of portraiture using cells from inside the mouth of the artist’s daughters. This kind of bioengineered portrait creates a direct link between the work of art and its subject. It consists of a living, growing image, which is not just the representation of the subject itself, but indeed it is the translation of its own living components.
The altered nature of this work can be read as the transition from a static approach in artistic production, to a scientific, high-tech methodology: starting a discussion on how much technology has impacted our behaviour, and also the history of art. With video animation, 3D printing and scanning, digital art has demonstrated that the work of art must reflect the output of contemporary society, including all the myths and illusions towards science.
For Czarnecki and Hunt, to create a growing, bio-manipulated portrait means meditating on the role of technology, intended as the only way to save our existence. Maybe from death, maybe from ordinariness.
The future is unwritten, but we are always tying to translate it.
The mystery of science, the hidden truth behind formulas and devices, will always be fascinating to us because we are attracted by arcane things we cannot understand. The stereotyped vision of phials and ampoules in the lab, the cloned dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and The Simpsons’ three-eyed fish, show how science penetrated the realm of popular culture, building the belief that every single question of the world must find its answer within it.