view more images from the exhibition in the gallery page


Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art is an interdisciplinary and collaborative project that brings together a group of internationally recognized artists and social commentators (e.g. philosophers, sociologists, legal scholars, scientists) in order to produce a body of original art work and accompanying essays exploring the complex legal, ethical and social issues associated with advancements made in life science technologies with a particular focus on stem cell research. The project will result in multiple outputs including, among others, a major exhibition at the Glenbow Museum scheduled for January 2011, as well as a publication featuring critical essays and reproductions from the exhibition.

Perceptions of Promise is building on the momentum of an earlier initiative, Imagining Science, which was a highly successful project involving some truly renowned national and international artists and scholars including Chrisitine Borland, Glasgow School of Art and Professor Hank Greely, Stanford University, among many others. The project also resulted in a public exhibition, held at the Art Gallery of Alberta from November 14, 2008 to January 11, 2009; and a book, edited by Caulfield and Caulfield, which has received substantial international attention including winning an award at the New York Book Fair (2009)

After completing Imagining Science many of the participating artists and scholars felt that numerous important opportunities and creative/research questions remained to be pursued, and in response to this Professors Caulfield and Ingram, in collaboration with the U of A Health Law Institute, submitted a successful application to the Canadian Stem Cell Network in order to initiate Perceptions of Promise. This new creative/research project draws on some strategies of Imagining Science, but narrows focus from a broad examination of biomedical research to stem cell research, and emphasizes a closer and more sustained collaboration between scientists, social scientists and artists. Participants in Perceptions of Promise include returning artists and scholars such as Professor Gail Geller, Johns Hopkins University, as well as new team members such as internationally recognize U.K. artist Marilene Oliver, and Professor Jane Kaye, Oxford University, among others.

Scholarly and creative activities for Perceptions of Promise are already well underway, and the team has just completed a highly successful three-day workshop in April that brought participants together to present their research and creative concerns, and look for linkages to begin the process of fostering ongoing collaboration. Scholarly articles in the Perceptions of Promise publication will cover a wide range of research topics including current trends in stem cell research, the impact of technology on contemporary perceptions of the body, and legal and ethical issues relating to biomedical research. An addition focus of the publication will be a exploration into popular culture representations of biotechnology in film, literature, print media, and the role art have can have on public perceptions of biomedical research and, by extension, on policy debate and resulting regulatory frameworks.

Similarly, the rise of emerging biotechnology has significantly impacted the contemporary art world, leading artists to adopt new media and approaches, and to create work that critically examines the impact of this technology on society. Thus, a dynamic and interdependent relationship exists between contemporary art production, popular culture, technological innovation, and policy debate. In the context of this project artists have already initiated a number if exciting projects including pieces that utilize MRI technology in order to create haunting sculptural forms; drawings that look to technical scientific language for inspiration; and installations that draw on the history of scientific illustration in order to explore the polarized feelings of hope and anxiety that society can feel in relation to new technology.

Art has an important role to play in the discourse around biotechnology because it can offer unique articulations of the complex, polarized and often emotionally charged responses the public has towards technology. When engaging in this kind of critical dialogue, however, it is crucial that artists and the public are properly informed by the sophisticated and rich research occurring in the biomedical and scholarly world. Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society and Art offers viewers a compelling glimpse into a unique collaboration between scientists, scholars and artists, in a visually engaging exhibition that challenges viewers to consider positive and negative possibilities of biotechnology and stem cell research.

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