Internationally recognized Portuguese visual artist Marta de Menezes, whose research explores the intersection between art and biology, delivered a lecture—titled “Identity: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”—on Wednesday, March 22, in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Howard P. Isermann Auditorium. The event was co-sponsored by the Arts Department in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).
The lecture is part of Art_X@Rensselaer, an initiative designed to help Rensselaer students discover the arts in science and technology, as well as the science and technology in art; as well as iEAR Presents, a series of public performances, exhibitions, screenings, and lectures dealing with innovative aesthetic, cultural, and technical explorations of experimental media and electronic arts. Curated by Arts Department faculty, iEAR Presents seeks to bring artists into creative dialogue with the Rensselaer community and the general public.
“The work of de Menezes explores the possibilities modern biology offers to artists,” said Kathy High, professor of video and new media in the Arts Department, who coordinated the lecture in collaboration with Deepak Vashishth, director of CBIS. “In the lecture a special emphasis was given to the development of collaborative projects between the artist and the different fields within biology she has worked with to question how our genetic composition is similar to various other animals, and challenge our conception of identity.”
“I have been developing the use of biology and biotechnology as new art media, conducting my practice in research laboratories that are my art studio,” said de Menezes. “I have been trying not only to portray the recent advances of biological sciences, but also to incorporate biological material as a way to convey an artistic discourse not possible with a different medium: DNA, proteins, and cells offer an opportunity to explore novel ways of representation and communication.”
In the lecture a special emphasis was given to the development of collaborative projects between the artist and the different fields within biology she has worked with to question how our genetic composition is similar to various other animals, and challenge our conception of identity.”—Kathy High
In 1999, de Menezes created her first biological artwork (Nature?) by modifying the wing patterns of live butterflies. Since then, she has used diverse biological techniques including functional MRIs of the brain to create portraits where the mind can be visualized (Functional Portraits, 2002); fluorescent DNA probes to create micro-sculptures in human cell nuclei (nucleArt, 2002); sculptures made of proteins (Proteic Portrait, 2002-2007) and DNA (Innercloud, 2003; The Family, 2004), or incorporating live neurons (Tree of Knowledge, 2005) or bacteria (Decon, 2007). Her work has been presented internationally in exhibitions, articles, and lectures. She received a degree in fine arts from the University of Lisbon, a master’s degree in the history of art and visual culture from the University of Oxford, and she is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Leiden. Currently, de Menezes serves as the artistic director of Ectopia, an experimental art laboratory in Lisbon, and director of Cultivamos Cultura in the South of Portugal.
Additional funding for the lecture was provided by the New York State Council on the Arts.