The fragment below is part of a longer piece by Simone Osthoff entitled "From Stable Object to Participating Subject: content, meaning, and social context at ISEA97", originally published in New Art Examiner, February 1998, pp. 18-23.

Art at the Frontier of Biology and Robotics
It is interesting to notice that the chair of Ascott's panel "Artificial Consciousness and the Self" was Eduardo Kac, whose own work suggests a rather different direction in the development of electronic art. Contrasting with Ascott's disembodied communication, Kac and Ed Bennett's A-Positive, which premiered at ISEA97, promoted an intravenous exchange of body fluids between a human and a robot. This most-talked-about work at the symposium provoked debate on new directions for electronic art that emphasize the body and biological processes. The image created by a human wired to a robot in a "symbiotic" exchange was difficult for some and fascinating to many. The sight of blood and electronics mixed on the gallery floor contrasted sharply with the coldness and cleanliness of most of the other works exhibited. In A-Positive, the human body donates blood to the robot, which extracts from it enough oxygen to support a small flame, an archetypal symbol of life. In exchange, the robot (a biobot) donates dextrose to the human body, which accepts it intravenously. Kac observes:

"We are no more masters of our machines than we are at their mercy. We are as intrigued as we are perhaps fascinated and terrified by the notion that we are embodying technology. We are intrigued because of our innate and insatiable curiosity about our own limits; we are fascinated because of the new possibilities of an expanded body contemplating the notion of eternal life; and we are terrified because these technologies, originally developed to aid ill or physically impaired persons, are in fact not desirable for a fully healthy body and therefore renew our fear of confronting our own mortality."

A-Positive brings concerns from the fields of biology and robotics into the discussion of the fine arts. Whether working with telepresence on the Internet, exchanging body fluids with a biobot, or inserting a memory chip in his body as he did in Time Capsule, broadcast live in São Paulo, Brazil, Kac's work promotes exchange in which meaning is negotiated in new ecologies where people, animals, machines, and plants interact.
Ever since Conceptual art questioned a Modernist aesthetic, art has been caught in the slippery domain of Postmodern contingency. The simple substitution of a universal formalism for the politics of representation seems to be in need of redress. From a transcendental consciousness to blood exchanges with the machine; from globalization to social inequity; from celebration of individual freedom to the fear of losing control; from decentered notions of the self to synthetic others; the problem of content and meaning in electronic art has shifted emphasis from the stable object to the participating subject. Laurie Anderson's attention to scale and personal process, Sherry Turkle's metaphor of cycling through windows creating decentered identities, Nolan Bowie's concern with the social function of art, Guillermo Goméz-Peña's explorations of how context creates content, Roy Ascott's telematic embrace, and Eduardo Kac's dialogical exchange between body and machine all offer powerful visions of an emergent art.

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