“BioArt: Borders and definitions. Research project for the development of a widely accepted deontological framework of its production and management”

The BioArt project

The project aims at the establishment of good practices for the collection and display of BioArt, taking into consideration artists’ and scientists’ input, as well as current museological debate on ethics and standards of display and preservation of biological materials.


The objectives of the projects include:

  • Mapping the moral, ethical and legal questions that are raised by the use of biological materials in the artistic creation and by the exhibition of works of BioArt.

  • Mapping the diverse views across the social spectrum, the concerns of artists, museums, and galleries along with the visitors’ perceptions as to the ethical questions raised by the collection and display of BioArt.

  • Mapping the various BioArt collection management policies with emphasis on conservator’s role.

  • Enhancement of communication across institutions and experts involved in the study, exhibition/display and artistic use of biological materials, exploring the possibility of a Code of Ethics, according to the ICOM guidelines for the management of collections, concerned specifically with the case of artifacts which contain biological materials employed in an artistic context.

BioArt project is divided into the following 5 work packages (Actions):

The first action aims to study and record events that mark the progress of the use of biological materials over time until the appearance of the first samples of Bio- artifacts as a part of contemporary art. As part of Action 1 we will study the development of the use of biological materials as artifacts in the course of the history of art and museology in an effort to study the social and cultural environment of the objects. We will also study the historical development of the use of biological materials from prehistoric times up to date. In order to accomplish this part of the project we will gather and record information referring to ownership, creators, construction techniques, emotional values, social environment, religious beliefs etc. The aim is to place the artifacts made by biological materials in their historical and social context and explore the historical and social factors affecting their use by different regions in different periods. This research will contribute to better understanding of the aspirations of artists, collectors etc.

Furthermore we will highlight particular examples of use of biological materials as part of collections worldwide. And we will explore the first appearance of use of such materials as collection objects and possible motives/ reasons have been expressed for the act of collecting and displaying such objects. The package seeks to present and analyze as many examples of use of biological materials as possible whether they come from social groups, private collectors, or institutional organizations.

The second action aims to study and record the developments in BioArt, to record its definitions and boundaries detailing the biological materials used to define it, and to indicate their relationship to legal, ethical and philosophical questions.

We will examine the various aspects and issues relating to BioArt as they have been presented from different vantage points in literature, art criticism, scientific and artistic publications and through the exploration, study and description of specific examples of both established and new artistic trends in BioArt.

From the perspective of museology, organizations that hold works of BioArt will be recorded as well as examples of collections and exhibitions. We will look at the terms provided by new museology and the principles of collections management in order to determine whether the bodies and organizations that hold collections of BioArt meet certain requirements and/or adopt and follow the already established specific rules of the international ethical framework for the operation of museums regarding the management of these objects (acquisition, lending, dispossession, documentation, conservation, storage, exhibition, education, research). BioArt will be studied from both psychological and social perspective. Such a perspective is important because the development of a technique, along with the choice and use of a particular material are directly related to the temperament of the artist and often index social positionalities as means of expression in a certain period of time. It is therefore an important psycho-social matter that requires further study.

In the framework of Action 2 an indicative glossary of terms related to BioArt will be formed. The glossary will include those terms that occur frequently in articles, websites and the literature of BioArt, as well as terms related to the management of works of BioArt and to this research project.

In the context of this action extended research will be carried out in the existing legislative/ethical framework (laws, conventions, codes etc.) that regulate current action regarding the management of biological materials on an international level focusing in particular on current gaps in legislation. This action will also map any controversy regarding ethical concerns on the use of biological materials across diverse fields (arts, science, medicine, religion) as a related yet distinct field to the legislative framework.

In the course of the fourth action, field research will be carried out so as to locate the most important bodies (museums, galleries, private collections, etc.) that hold, or intend to possess biological materials among their collections. Questionnaires will be designed and sent to entities holding objects and works of art consisting of biological materials (collection's questionnaire). The purpose of this research is to identify whether the bodies operating under these specific regulations have adopted specific rules in reference to their overall management. Particular emphasis will be given in the exploration of collection, display and preservation policy issues, as well as of ethical standards and practices adopted in the case that living organisms and/or human remains are hosted in Museums and Galleries. A separate questionnaire will be formulated addressing specifically some of the prominent Bio-Artists around the world (artist's questionnaire). The aim of this questionnaire is to explore the use of biological materials by the artists, their motives, possible conflicts arisen by social groups or cultural professionals, legal or ethical restrictions in their respective countries, etc. Visitors’ research will be also conducted with the use of questionnaires (visitor's questionnaire). The aim of the research is to outline the impact of the exhibition of BioArt works to the public.

Additionally, a separate survey for other venues that are involved with the issue, such as church organizations, will be conducted. Based on these results, a list of experts and bodies will be formed. These experts and bodies could play a key role in forming a Code of Ethics for BioArt.

Finally, in the context of this action an on-line symposium with invited experts as participants will be developed in order to create a meeting place where they can exchange ideas and collaborate.

Based on the results of the fourth action an International Workshop of experts on the areas explored by the project will be convened in order to evaluate and process the results of the research and the articulation of rules concerning the management of biological materials. The Workshop will comprise representatives of all different segments (artists, art historians, social anthropologists, sociologists, art theorists, legal experts, biologists, museologists, representatives of social bodies, etc).

The fifth action aims, through the dialogue implemented by international experts and previous actions, to explore the possibility of arriving at consensus regarding a framework of principles and ethical guidelines commonly shared in the collection and display of BioArt among institutions and collectors. We will be looking at producing a final document as declaration of principles and rules of management concerning collections of BioArt.