Week 2: Biotech + Art

For last Monday’s lecture, we focused on the intersection between Biotech and Art, specifically noting artists who were in attendance at the UCLA Art Sci Symposium on April 5, 2019, titled Work Out / Tune-Up / Turn On -- What’s Next? Eco Materialism & Contemporary Art. The topic of e-waste stood out ot me the most out of all of the presented topics, specifically how it can negatively affect our environment even after we think it’s long gone. As a Global Studies minor, a big portion of one of my pillar courses circulated around the concept of planned obsolescence and its effects on global consumer culture. Planned obsolescence is a design and tech strategy that insures that a product’s lifespan is so short-lived that it requires constant replacing, creating a  wasteful consumer culture where everyone always wants to purchase the next better version of what they already own.[1] Whether it be replacing a light bulb due to non durable materials to purchasing a new iPhone because charting ports were redesigned and changed, planned obsolescence is everywhere. Not only is there an influx of electronic waste that isn’t always properly distributed, as shown in lecture where a video showed e-waste being burned in open dumps in developing countries to harvest metals, but there are also toxic practices that go into the creation of these products.


For instance, Foxconn plants are major manufacturers of Apple products, where mental health and working conditions for assembly-line employees are at all time low and toxic pollution is incredibly high.[2] Because of the planned obsolescence behind all of Apple’s product design, each year there is a societal need for consumers to refresh their iPhones, Macbooks, and everything else Apple to the latest versions—increasing the demand for quickly-assembled tech for low production costs. This is an area where I believe a progressive intersection between sustainability, design, and the tech industry is desperately needed and could drastically aid the negative direction the state of our environment is going in. A solution that involves sustainable materials and long-lasting product lifetimes definitely exists, we just need to promote a culture where it is something that is attainable.


Secondly, the act of using bodily items and features as art is something completely new for me. After exposing myself to the artists who led these workshops, I’m incredibly interested in this medium and its dynamics now. One of the artists during the lecture who’s work really stood out to me was Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Heather Dewey-Hagborg has a project titled Stranger Visions where they collect human hair, chewed gum, and used cigarette butts from the streets of New York City to collect the human DNA behind these items. After extracting this, Heather Dewey-Hagborg proceeds to created a 3D-rendering of what their DNA says they would look like, and these faces are then created into a physical printed object.[3] This project questions the privacy of our DNA and showcases just how easy it is to access information with modern technology. It reminded me a lot of ancestry websites such ancestry.com and 23andme.com and the privacy controversy behind them.[4] Some of these genetic-testing websites can take ownership of your DNA data, which could lead to further privacy issues in the future.[5]


[1] http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/18/foxconn-life-death-forbidden-city-longhua-suicide-apple-iphone-brian-merchant-one-device-extract
[3] https://deweyhagborg.com/projects/stranger-visions
[4] https://www.toptenreviews.com/services/home/best-genealogy-websites/
[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/16/5-biggest-risks-of-sharing-dna-with-consumer-genetic-testing-companies.html