Nanotechnology advocacy and activism

Today I’ve been thinking about the policy angle of my project and how art practices might inform policies around nanobiotechnologies. Two wonderful science art friends who have been involved with space art policy in their respective countries, Sarah Jane Pell (Australia) and Nahum (Mexico), were kind enough to give me some advice on how their arts practices have engaged with policy.

Following that I’ve researched the advocacy and activist groups who work with nanotechnology in Australia and found the following:

  • The Australian Nanotechnology network
  • Friends of the earth
  • Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) Working Group on Nanotechnology
  • Minerals Council of Australia
  • Australian Council of Trade Unions
  • Nanotechnologies Technical Committee (established by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO))
  • Australian Academy of Science’s National Committees
  • GoNano (Europe based, but great in that they already have a model of integrating the government, industry, academia and community to inform government policy collaboratively).

I’m currently developing contacts with these groups to establish a dialogue about how arts practices might contribute. More on this later as it unfolds.


First readings: Paul B. Preciado & Critical Art Ensemble

This week I’ve sketched out a bit of an approach, identifying artists and texts to explore what’s already happening in this space of biopolitical art and theory.  Thanks to my colleague and friend Amy Spiers from CAST for sending me this article “Learning from the Virus” by Paul B. Preciado — it’s a great starting point for anyone interested in this intersection of biotechnology, politics and culture.

I’m also revisiting the writings of Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) as I think the complexity of their thinking on emerging technologies has been really important for the art world. Their stance is non-reductive: they recognised the importance of not just merging all gene editing technologies into one group to be demonised or lauded accordingly. In the popular press gene editing technologies are often grouped together for the purposes of discussing issues of ethics or governance. CAE, however, has dealt with genetic modification with more nuanced understand than many science communicators, pointing out that while one such technology may pose an existential threat to a crop, another may have untold benefits. This is something that equally applies to the nanotechnologies I engage with in my work: nanotechnology is an umbrella term that includes the nanobiosensing technologies used in medicine, nanoscale etching helps create smaller microelectronics, carbon nano tubules aid absorption of sunscreens into the skin, and carbon nanotechnology is used to improve the strength of a tennis racket, to name just a few. Some of these nanotechnologies, by design, remain dynamic and able to react with environmental or biological chemicals, others will be stable and less likely to react. So we cannot just apply blanket statements of ethics, or apply the same laws, to classes of technology. Instead, each must be considered individually. Equally, what is best for an individual may not be best for the community, and these differences are also important.

Beatriz da Costa & Kavita Philip Tactical Biopolitics : Art, Activism, and Technoscience