edited by Beatriz da Costa, Kavita Philip – Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience

Beatriz da Costa

The MIT Press, ISBN 9780262042499, U.S.A., 2008, English
As the essays in Tactical Biopolitics discuss at length, techno-scientific innovations have increasingly become subject to ongoing controversies through entanglements with corporate capital, ecologies, population health, identity politics and food production. Originally developed from a conference called ‘BioArt and the Public Sphere’ at the University of Irvine in October 2005, this extended collection attempts to draw together political activists, cultural theorists, scientists and art practitioners into a broad interdisciplinary conversation on the social issues that have emerged with breakthroughs in the life sciences. Significantly, while the title refers both to the concept of tactical media and philosophical debates around biopolitics, the concerns of the book do not exclusively follow this subject in theoretical detail. Rather, these keywords are left to evoke a field that is elaborated and explored by reflections on specific sites and practices. Several themes group the essays together: curatorial and scientific methods, inter-species relations (human and nonhuman), amateur science, public laboratory experimentation, race and gender, and biosecurity. Within these categories, some studies deal with corporate sponsorship for exhibitions, the problems of translating the affects of living artworks beyond an installation, the difficulties of an open source approach to science, the politics of DNA-based racial profiling, the role of scientific self-education in AIDS activism, and the ‘life’ of the commons, among many others. Importantly, several key practitioners from the field of biological arts contribute essays that outline some central ideas behind their projects, including Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz da Costa, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr (Tissue Culture & Art Project), and subRosa. Elsewhere, politically engaged scientists such as Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin are interviewed, while influential theorists like Eugene Thacker and Donna Haraway also include essays. Summarizing the diversity and richness of this important publication is a difficult task. But as Joseph Dumit points out in the foreword, there are clear links to be established between these seemingly isolated ‘expert lines’, especially since science appears more and more as a political practice of socio-technological invention. Confronting the complexities unleashed across so many spheres of life through these breakthroughs will take varied resources and expertise, and publications such as Tactical Biopolitics play a significant role by offering a glimpse of these possible emergent constellations of knowledge.

Michael Dieter