Critical Art Ensemble is a collective of five tactical media artists
dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, critical
theory, and political activism. Each artist has her or his specialised
talents and skills, including performance, book arts, graphic design,
computer art, film/video, photography and critical writing. Those skills
are used in a tactical manner, recombined according to the demands of
CAE chooses a subject in a specific cultural situation and creates a
work within that context, with that particular audience, and within the
social space and performative matrix of everyday life. They use the skills
and the media that will best address the content and situation, moving
to any site - galleries, the internet, the street – in Europe and
CAE’s practice is about the process of resistance, about creating
works and events which reveal and challenge the authoritarian underpinnings
of pancapitalism and Western culture. CAE makes events using combinations
of traditional and participatory theatre, lecture, dialogue and the written
text – events
that demonstrate the necessity of this challenge.
For the past seven years, CAE has focused on biotechnology, its colonising
effects and ideological layering, and the biorevolution in global capitalism.
The public’s access to the processes of biotechnology is limited;
it is only the resultant product that appears as a commodity, resulting
in misleading speculation, fear, disinformation and communicative disorder.
Tacticality includes a willingness to be amateurs, to try anything,
to resist specialisation, and CAE’s interventions propose to give
people reliable information and direct experience of the routinised processes
of science so that individuals can come to understand that biotech is
within their power to think about and actively influence. In some works,
CAE invites public participation (participatory theatre) in doing actual
experiments, exploring the performativities of science and theatre. These
public experiments demystify the scientific process, encourage amateur
explorations, and serve as a public pedagogy about biotech initiatives
and business. Throughout the diverse strategies of these works, CAE raises
questions concerning democracy, pancapitalism, the utopian promises of
biotech, eugenics, and of life itself.
CAE hopes these performances contribute to the development of an informed,
critical public discourse on biotechnology.
The Critical Art Ensemble website provides documentation, position papers,
and the web pages used in performances.
Cult of the New Eve
This project examines the appropriation of Christian promissory rhetoric – the
promises of miracle cures, of abundance and immortality - by industry
and scientific specialists in order to persuade the public of the utopian
nature of new biotechnology. Critical Art Ensemble has taken this rhetoric
and moved it from the context of the most legitimate and authoritative
socio-economic constellations – the Church - and placed it in the
context of the least legitimate of all social constellations – the
cult – in order to give the public a new perception of this particular
strain of social representation.
‘Molecular Invasion’ is a participatory science–theatre
work in which CAE and selected students attempt to reverse-engineer genetically-modified
RoundUp Ready canola, corn and soya plants through the use of non-toxic
chemical disrupters. In this theatre of live public experimentation,
CAE attempt to transform artificial biological traits of adaptability
into ones of susceptibility, as well as to establish a model for Contestational
What Contestational Biologists Want
- A halt to corporate initiatives to consolidate and control the world's
- All biotech initiatives and policies that are going to have a profound
effect on the environment and/or humans should be in the democratic
control of the public…
- Biotechnologies that could have profound effects on the environment
over time must be the subject of long-term study, before they can be
Transgenics, the recombination of genetic material at a molecular and
cellular level, creates entities which cross previous species boundaries.
The release of transgenics into environments gives rise to concerns about
authority, nature, purity, danger and profit.
During the installation, the temporary information agency of the biotechnology
corporation GenTerra provides hands-on demonstrations
of its products. The public have the chance to create their own transgenic
organism, created by using human DNA derived from blood samples. The
participants can weight up the pros and cons of transgenics for themselves,
and make a decision whether to release the recombinant bacteria
into the public space, to take the bacteria home, to leave it with the
technicians of GenTerra.
The project opens with a stage performance to critically contextualise
the event that follows. Visitors to the installation use the CD for the
corporation BioCom to take donor screening
tests and gather information on reproductive technologies. If the individual
passes the donor screening test, they are offered the chance to give
blood samples for DNA extraction and amplification which are done in
an on-site lab. Participants can then assess the potential value of their
bodies in the genetic market economy. Throughout the work, there is a
critical subtext questioning the utopian surface of free choice and progress,
and the undisclosed eugenics of reproductive technologies.
For a European audience, CAE constructed a portable, public lab to test
foods for the more common genetic modifications. People brought in foods
that they found suspect for whatever reason, and CAE tested them over
a 72-hour period to see if their suspicions are justified. Free
Range brought issues of food purity and global trade into the
realm of public discourse.
The above text has been edited by Wallace Heim from Critical Art
Ensemble’s website and associated articles and interviews, with
permission from CAE.
w : www.critical-art.net
e : ensemble at critical-art.net
All photographs provided by and copyright of Critical Art Ensemble
Interviews and articles by and about CAE
Giannachi, Gabriella (forthcoming) 'Exposing Globalisation: Biopower
in the work of the Critical Art Ensemble', to be published by Critical
Tandom Surfing the Third Wave, Part One:
Critical Art Ensemble and Tactical Media Production
interview by Ryan Griffiths 2000
Critical Art Ensemble. 2000. ‘Body Invasion and Resistant Cultural
Practice’ Art Journal, Fall 2000.
Critical Art Ensemble. ‘Observations on Collective Cultural Action’.
from The Drama Review [Winter 2000] 44:4 (T168):
Critical Art Ensemble. ‘Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance’ pp
Critical Art Ensemble. ‘Performing a Cult’ pp 167-173.
Critical Art Ensemble. ‘Timeline’
McKenzie, Jon and Rebecca Schneider. ‘Critical Art Ensemble.
Tactical Media Practitioners. An Interview’ pp 136-150.
Schneider, Rebecca. ‘Nomadmedia. On Critical Art Ensemble.’ pp120-131.
The Drama Review articles are available online from a subscribing
university or institution at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/tdr
Cult of the New Eve
Critical Art Ensemble, Paul Vanouse, Faith
Museum of Contemporary Art, Toulouse, France
Steirische Herbst at esc Gallery
St. Clara Hospital, Rotterdam
Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz la Costa, Claire
The Corcoran,Washington DC
Beursschouwburg (‘Art and Science Collision’) Brussels
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki
Public Netbase Museums Quartier, Vienna
Labor Gallery, Graz
Kapellica Gallery, Ljublijana
Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz da Costa
Magasin, Grenoble, France
as part of ‘Clean Rooms’ at
The Darwin Centre, Natural History Museum, London
Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz da Costa, Shyh-shiun Shyu
Shirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt