Entangling Art & Biology: Three Serpentine Knots of Indisciplined Practice – Introduction

How can we know the world in a way that encourages the widespread flourishing of human and nonhuman systems? The three essays in this section take lively, messy, visual/philosophical approaches to this question that begin in the art world, with our experiences as artists and scholars of art. We twist our experiences together with those of powerful scientists and scholars of biology, making use of their knowledge of life. Choosing to name our triplet writings “serpentine knots” is careful metaphor; we offer nothing literally scaly, sinuous or ropy in our texts (although our thoughts may be “knotty” in another sense of the word). Rather, this title signals that our word-knowledge is tied with visual and haptic knowledge. The call to attention, the threat, even, stirred by the mental image “serpentine” is animated by physical sights: reptilian eyes, forked tongues, and slithering bodies. The mental image “knot” stirs kinetic experience and bodily memory of bonds, of strain, of being restrained, mixed with closeness and togetherness.  Knitting together stories and images from the history of biology, the study of complex systems, new visualization and sensing technologies, and the integration of all of the above in works of contemporary art, we explore with metadisciplinary excitement. Knot One introduces the “Haraway Therapeutics” — as in Donna Haraway —  which identifies the looping of time and knowledge revealed when a long-beloved feminist scientist helps unstitch and clarify a favorite artist, György Kepes. Knot Two adapts a key image from the history of science, as expounded by Evelyn Fox Keller, to illuminate a long-term social practice behind art making with new visualization technologies. Knot Three swings from decentering the human via Haraway and primatology to the even greater hurdle, famously set by Lynn Margulis, of decentering the human in the context of microbes and the Anthropocene.

— Meredith Tromble


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