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Art, Ethics and Biotechnology

Language of instruction: English

About the module: Contemporary biotechnological practices (such as genetic modification) that involve manipulation of living beings present a challenge to traditional notions of nature and the human body. This is particularly true of synthetic biology, a form of bioengineering which includes both the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems and the re-designing of existing natural biological systems. These developments pose pressing and urgent questions.

Firstly, who has the right to re-design life? This is ultimately a question of legal and moral ownership and of the commodification of life and nature. Secondly, do we, as a society, think it is necessary to re-design life, and if so, how do we want to re-design nature and the human body? What limits do we wish to impose on biotechnological innovation involving nature and the human body? And what notion of ‘being human’ or human dignity and of nature are these limits based on?

The opportunities and possibilities of biotechnology challenge us to seek new approaches to the ethical, cultural, juridical and economic issues relating to biotechnological practices. The starting point of this module is that biotechnology is testing accepted ethical and aesthetic values concerning the human body and nature to such an extent that we need multiple perspectives in our search for a theoretical and practical position on new biotechnological challenges and developments. In particular, we will consider the contribution of art in this debate.

We will discuss how artworks that engage with biotechnological practices enable the artist and the beholder to actively experiment with new ways of being, behaving and constituting subjectivities in relation to biotechnological developments.
In this class we will discuss these issues with an emphasis on their cultural embedding. We will ask ourselves how the humanities can play a role in the search for new approaches and whether and how art is able to open a much-needed new perspective on the implications of biotechnology and become a valuable voice in the public and academic debate?

Lecturer: Prof.dr. Robert Zwijnenberg studied Civil Engineering and Philosophy. He obtained his PhD from the University of Amsterdam on a dissertation about Leonardo da Vinci. Since 2007, he has held a Chair in Art and Science at the Faculty of Humanities.

Robert Zwijnenberg

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