22 02 2009


1) Susceptibility to teratogenesis depends on the genotype of the conceptus and the manner in which this interacts with adverse environmental factors.

2) Susceptibility to teratogenesis varies with the developmental stage at the time of exposure to an adverse influence. There are critical periods of susceptibility to agents and organ systems affected by these agents.

3) Teratogenic agents act in specific ways on developing cells and tissues to initiate sequences of abnormal developmental events.

4) The access of adverse influences to developing tissues depends on the nature of the influence. Several factors affect the ability of a teratogen to contact a developing conceptus, such as the nature of the agent itself, route and degree of maternal exposure, rate of placental transfer and systemic absorption, and composition of the maternal and embryonic/fetal genotypes.

5) There are four manifestations of deviant development (Death, Malformation, Growth Retardation and Functional Defect).

6) Manifestations of deviant development increase in frequency and degree as dosage increases from the No Observable Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) to a dose producing 100% Lethality (LD100)1

BIOTEKNICA is an interdisciplinary art/research project established in 2000 by Jennifer Willet and Shawn Bailey. BIOTEKNICA functions as an established critical framework under which we conduct a variety of art actions, media works, critical interventions, and theoretical analysis of evolving biotechnologies. This framework postulates BIOTEKNICA as a fictitious biotech corporation where designer organisms are generated based on consumer demand. The organisms produced by our fictitious company are modeled on the Teratoma, an unusual cancerous growth containing multiple tissues like hair, skin, and vascular systems. Monstrous and grotesque, the teratoma is at the centre of current key ethical debates surrounding fetal stem cell research. Scientists today see the teratoma as an instance of spontaneous cloning in nature, and are conducting research on the teratoma with the goal of developing future therapeutic technologies.2 Additionally, Christian right fundamentalist advisors in the United States are postulating farming teratoma in-vitro as a viable human stem cell source that would not necessitate the termination of fetuses that arguably possess developmental human potential.3 BIOTEKNICA both embraces and critiques these evolving technologies – presenting the teratoma as a privileged commodity, considering the contradictions and deep underlying complexities that biological technologies offer. BIOTEKNICA intentionally avoids prescriptive critical mantras; instead the viewer is encouraged to come to his or her own conclusions about the efficacy of the technologies, procedures and protocols presented.

We see this project as a timely one – where technologically we are engaged in a critical period of susceptibility to agents and organ systems affected by these agents. In other words, BIOTEKNICA and BioArt in general, are ripe contaminants – offering great possibility for mutation in the early biotech era. Biotechnology is arguably the most significant technological development of our time. We see ourselves facing an alarming threshold where humanity, as we understand it today, will be irrevocably changed by the technological trajectories we choose for ourselves. Biotechnology, and specifically projected cloning technologies, are seen as a Pandora’s box. Paradoxically offering great humanitarian potential, particularly in the health care sector, yet simultaneously ensuring a societal leap into a vast and possibly devastating unknown. In The Biotech Century Jeremy Rifkin states that, “The biotechnology revolution will affect each of us more directly, forcefully, and intimately than any other technology revolution in history.”4 With such focus placed on predictions and forecasts – the hype and hysteria – surrounding biotechnology, we often overlook the very clear and present bio-manipulations and bio-invasions of the physical and social body occurring each and every day.

This work erupts from a variety of positions and intentionalities – from the contemporary art scene with a focus on the intersection between art and science – from video, installation, and performance concerns – from philosophy of science – media studies – programming – social and political activism – and most recently applied scientific laboratory protocols. We deploy BIOTEKNICA in general, and the teratoma in specific, as critical points of intersection between fiction and reality towards the propagation of rational and imaginary critical thinking about biotechnology. BIOTEKNICA has produced a series of teratomas over the past seven years. First relying heavily on digital photography and imaging technologies, and then on fractal programming strategies, we created a series of virtual teratomas exhibited online and in galleries. We also mobilized more conventional sculptural techniques, crafting teratoma forms out of commercial meat products.


However, in 2004, BIOTEKNICA adopted a critical participatory methodology for exploring the ethics and aesthetics of biotechnology, pushing our theoretical teratomas out of the realm of representation, and in to the laboratory. Serving as Honorary Research Fellows at the SymbioticA: the Art and Science Collaborative Research Laboratory at The University of Western Australia, we began training and preliminary investigations into growing tissue culture prototypes of our teratoma forms.

In January 2006 we returned to SymbioticA to complete the Teratological Prototypes, this time in collaboration with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from Tissue Culture & Art Project. Here, we cultivated the P19 (mouse teratoma) cell line in vitro – building up a substantial population of healthy cells, both live and frozen. Simultaneously, we completed a series of 3D Scans of teratoma meat sculptures, and with 3D digital printing, molding and casting techniques, produced a series of scale teratoma forms to serve as the sculptural scaffolds of the final Teratological Prototypes. Each teratoma form was cast in a bioabsorbable polymer called P4HB, in two half sections, and sewn together with surgical thread. The teratoma scaffolds were placed in placed in a bioreactor chamber, along with an abundant population of cells, and nutrient solution, and stored in a water-jacketed CO2 incubator. As the bioreactor turns, cells are persuaded to attach themselves to the scaffolds rather then the interior walls of the chamber. The medium is replaced three to five times weekly with fresh nutrients and serums to allow substantial cell division to occur, resulting in the slow growth of fragile tissue culture sculptures.


The Teratological Prototypes were exhibited for the first time at ISEA Zero One San Jose in August 2006. On site, we built a functional tissue culture laboratory – maintaining the sterile environment necessary to grow a series of three Teratological Prototypes – live for public view.

Our most recent exhibition, BIOTEKNICA: LiveLifeLab was a new installation and durational performance that reflects BIOTEKNICA research and production to date.


We presented this work at the FOFA Gallery, Concordia University in Montreal in early 2007. With LiveLifeLab the traditional gallery setting serves multiple functions: exhibiting prototyped objects; video and digital print documentation; a live art performance site; and a tissue culture laboratory. In the context of LiveLifeLab, we conducted an ‘experiment’ of sorts (an art action) in which the two artists construct a functional tissue culture lab in the gallery, and continue their ongoing research into creating new living art forms for the duration of the installation. This work resulted from ongoing questions arising for artists working with specialized scientific protocols and confronts the problems of accessaccountability – and specialization – that typically inhibit non-specialist engagement and understanding of the sciences. LiveLifeLab was a propositional performance and installation that resulted in transformative experimentation for the artists and viewers alike; allowing for the possibility of failure, in infrastructure – material transfer agreements – sterility and/or aesthetics.

These cumulative experiences marked a significant shift in our collaborative practice – away from the mere representation of mutation – and towards a teratomatic interventionist methodology. BIOTEKNICA itself, has been transformed into a teratogenic agent – where instead of analyzing biotechnology from an external position, it begins to infect and produce irrational affect in both scientific and artists communities. BIOTEKNICA has become an un-nameable entity – organism – skirting the boundaries of art and science. As James G. Wilson describes in his six principles of teratogensis; “Teratogenic agents act in specific ways on developing cells and tissues to initiate sequences of abnormal developmental events.”5 BIOTEKNICA also serves to initiate sequences of abnormal developmental events, at cellular, social, political, artistic and scientific levels. Ironically, and reciprocally, BIOTEKNICA’s transmutative effects have also contaminated itself, and the artists/actants who set the process in motion, hypocritically instrumentalizing (devouring and mutating) life forms to propagate it’s own robustness – subsuming itself, and it’s host organism. BIOTEKNICA, like the cancerous teratoma, is subject to it’s own self prescribed vicissitude, and consumptive end.


1 James G. Wilson,. Environment and Birth Defects (Environmental Science Series). London: Academic Pr. 1959.

2 Advanced Cell Technology, Press Release: Researchers Develop Specialized Cell Types From Embryonic Monkey Stem Cells, Advanced Cell Technology corporate website; no longer available online URL: [date of last access 02/05/2002]

3 Clive Thompson, “How to Farm Stem Cells without Loosing your Soul” in Wired Magazine, Issue. 13.6, 2005; available online: URL: [date of last access: 15/07/2007]

4 Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, (New York: Tharcher/Putnam, 1998), p. 236.

5 James G. Wilson,. Environment and Birth Defects (Environmental Science Series). London: Academic Pr. 1959.



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