Posthuman Genetic Legacies sits at the intersection of fine art, science, technology and law. The project draws on my recent experience of uterine pathology and impending menopause to consider alternative conceptions of motherhood and reproduction. In particular, the project investigates the potential of cell culture and genetic engineering technologies to acquire biological offspring when conventional reproductive pathways are compromised or traditional conceptions of motherhood are undesirable.
Rather than simply advocating for the uptake of biotechnological reproduction, the project aims to use this provocation to interrogate gender expectations and the human desire for immortality via genetic continuance. It invites consideration on how a posthuman positioning that disrupts biological norms and embraces the emancipatory and world-building potential of new technologies may offer an empowered conceptual space for rethinking the anguish of childlessness. The project will also examine the legal frameworks that govern access to reproductive technologies as well as ownership, use and patenting of biological material.
While project parameters will emerge through collaborative exploration, preliminary project aims include creating stem cells and an immortalised cell line from benign tumour (fibroid) tissue removed from my uterus via abdominal myomectomy in 2020. If successful, collaborators will undertake genetic profiling of the cells to make them available for creative and scientific research. The process will also involve testing the cells in different 3D structures to determine cellular response and create living sculptural assemblages to explore alternative futures including kinship and biological connections beyond species boundaries.
The project will take place across three host organisations over an eight-month period (part-time). The Tasmanian School of Medicine at The University of Tasmania will be the primary residency host as the school has excellent resources available to support cell culture, cell immortalisation and iPSC processes (to reprogram cells to a stem cell like state). A/Prof Brad Sutherland and Dr Jo-Maree Courtney are experts in primary cell culture and have already assisted me with isolating cells from my fibroid tissue in October 2020.
The second host organisation is the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at The Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI). The centre specialises in 3D tissue engineering and biofabrication and is able to produce scaffolds for cell culture using a range of biomaterials and processes. Prof. Dietmar Hutmacher leads the centre and will work with joint collaborators on project development including training in scaffold design, manufacture and cell seeding processes. The residency will include a month-long artist practicum at the institute for hands on training and experimentation with biofabricated structures.
The third host organisation is the UTAS Centre for Law and Genetics. This centre specialises in the governance of biomedical research and associated technologies. Primary contact A/Prof Jane Nielsen has a background in patents in biotechnology, biobanking and liability of 3D printing of medical devices. A/Prof Nielsen will collaborate by identifying legal and governance issues related to reproductive technologies and biomaterials production and distribution including the implications of making personal genetic and social information available as part of a creative archive for artistic research.