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Food and Drink

Looking at dinner in whole new ways

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"You'll never look at dinner the same way."

That's the tagline for the 2008 documentary, Food Inc. , by award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner. If you've seen the doc you likely haven't looked at your dinner - or even a doughnut - the same way since.

The tagline also suits to a T the works by a number of artists practising a relatively new genre of contemporary art called bioart, appropriately enough, given it straddles the worlds of science and art and uses living tissue.

Bioart arises from our brave new technological world where human organs and meat can be grown from cells and harvested with equal aplomb; where eggs, sperm and even DNA can be banked and traded, bought and sold; where scientists inject "antifreeze" genes from a North Atlantic fish into tomatoes so the plants can withstand colder temperatures; where GMOs in food and beyond are the norm not the exception. And where we have few, if any, moral and ethical way-finders to guide us.

The art work itself might be a flower carefully bred for certain aesthetics - one of the more approachable works in the bioart pantheon, which isn't exactly known for being a particularly accessible genre but nonetheless remains one worth taking the time to explore.

It could use mould or DNA or, as is often the case, the artist's own body as the medium - an arm, say, used to grow an extra ear with a microphone implanted inside, as was the case with the Australian-based artist known as Stelarc.

Or the artist's own blood, as demonstrated by Brit artist Marc Quinn, who had his head cast as a bust from nine pints of his own frozen, congealed blood, giving the idea of "self-portrait" new meaning. Yes, the sculpture did eventually melt, but not before it landed in Charles Saatchi's collection, or rather his freezer.

All of this points to even more symbiosis between the worlds of food, art and technology than one might otherwise assume, and reveals another highlight of the world of bioart - bringing together seemingly disparate media and ideas in sometimes unexpected, even shocking ways, forcing us to not always believe what we think.

The term "bioart" was actually coined in the late '90s by one of the better known artists practising in the field, Eduardo Kac. He went on to create what's commonly known as the glowing green bunny. Google that phrase and you'll come up with Alba, more formally known as the GFP Bunny - GFP for green fluorescent protein.

Much like the tomato plants laced with white flounder fish genes - transgenetic creations all, manipulated by us and for us - Alba, who started life as a regular albino rabbit, was created by Kac working in conjunction with scientists who injected her (him?) with a green fluorescent gene found in certain wild jellyfish.

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