enter change Performance and Nature connect unsettle bridge
Bird Brain Critical Art Ensemble Welfare State International
Simon Whitehead
Shelley Sacks
green museum.org Fern Shaffer and Othello Anderson
David Haley
John Lyall
Ballet Atlantique-Regine Chopinot
Opening Essay Introducing the Artists Links and Readings
Hester Reeve Basia Irland


Cult of the New Eve


Contestational Biology


Flesh Machine







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 each work.

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 North America.

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.   

Contestational Biology

‘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 Biology.

What Contestational Biologists Want

  1. A halt to corporate initiatives to consolidate and control the world's food supply…
  2. 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…
  3. Biotechnologies that could have profound effects on the environment over time must be the subject of long-term study, before they can be commercially licensed…  


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.

Flesh Machine 

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.

Free Range

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

Photo Credits

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 Theatre Review.

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’. Variant 15

from The Drama Review [Winter 2000] 44:4 (T168):

Critical Art Ensemble. ‘Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance’ pp 151-166.

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

Production Details

Cult of the New Eve
Critical Art Ensemble, Paul Vanouse, Faith Wilding
Museum of Contemporary Art, Toulouse, France
Brussels 2000
Steirische Herbst at esc Gallery
St. Clara Hospital, Rotterdam
Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany

Contestational Biology
Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz la Costa, Claire Pentecost
The Corcoran,Washington DC

Flesh Machine
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

Free Range
Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz da Costa, Shyh-shiun Shyu
Shirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt

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