Bio-Art: The Marriage Of Art And Microorganisms

Gamze Ünal October 2014

A PETRI DISH INSTEAD OF A PALETTE, MICROSCOPIC MOLD IN PLACE OF PAINT. SUCH ARE THE MATERIALS OF SELIN BALCI’S ART! WE TALKED WITH HER ABOUT THAT EXTRAORDINARY ART, BIOART.

Can you tell us briefly about your education and your artistic career?
After I graduated from the Istanbul University Department of Forest Engineering, I worked as a researcher in microbiology laboratories at various universities in the U.S. In 2004, I began studying Intermedia in the Fine Arts Department of the University of West Virginia. Before I embarked on a graduate degree at the University of Maryland in 2009, I was already getting interested in projects that combine art and science. The fact that I first worked in microbiology and was familiar with lab technique was a big advantage for me when I was doing my advanced degree. My education took a while, but if I had not taken that path I could never have created the art I create today. 

Bio-art is a genre of contemporary art that is on the rise. What are its main characteristics? Why is it called “BioArt”?
Bio-art has not yet been defined in a way that is accepted by artists. Some artists, for example, make DNA models and call that BioArt. To me, BioArt has to be art that contains and creates a living thing and an active process. 
To put it another way, the organism used has to sustain its life and development in/on the work. As Eduardo Kac puts it, “Works that illustrate biological subject-matter, in other words, DNA models, chromosome diagrams, human body models, videos, and photographs of cells, do not fall under bio-art.” I am of the same opinion, and I try to make that clear in my art works.

How did you get interested in BioArt? In what medium do you work these days? 
Everyone’s view of art is different, and everyone tries to appeal to as wide a public as possible. The path taken by my work is a very different path that grew out of a desire to produce art works I thought would be more beautiful and alluring. 
These days I use the colors of fungi in a petri dish and I apply those microscopic creatures on paper and canvas. I have no doubt that this process will continue all my life, and that I’ll go on experimenting with different methods on different surfaces using unusual materials. In my work, I reference the fundamental, underlying social dilemmas and principles of our existence in an effort to understand and highlight social issues.