Art's Work in the Age of Biotechnology: Shaping Our Genetic Futures

  • Art's Work poster
    Art's Work poster

Evolution has gotten us this far. Design may take it from here. 

Aimed at raising awareness about genetic engineering, biotechnologies, and their consequences through the lens of art and design, Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology: Shaping Our Genetic Futures is an art-science exhibition organized by the NC State University Libraries and the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, and shown at the Gregg Museum of Art & Design, in the physical and digital display spaces of the Libraries, and on the grounds of the North Carolina Museum of Art.

By combining science and art and design, participating artists offer new insights about genetic engineering by bringing it out of the lab and into public places to challenge viewer’s understandings about the human condition, the material of our bodies, and the consequences of biotechnology. The exhibits, integrated curriculum, and cross-campus dialogues will raise awareness and discussion about biotechnologies and their consequences in our society while drawing upon art practices that reach new communities.

Exhibition participants were both solicited and chosen through an open call to artists, scientists, designers, and makers at all career stages. Many participants have exhibited widely and achieved international recognition, including Jon Davis, Siren Genomics, Kirsten Stolle, Paul Vanouse, Adam Zaretsky, Joe Davis, Emilia Tikka, Emeka Ikebude, Jennifer Willet, Charlotte Jarvis, Maria McKinney, Kerasynth, Ciara Redmond, Aaron Ellison, David Buckley Borden, and Joel Ong.

These artists have made a stunning and thought-provoking range of work. McKinney reinterprets pre-Christian European harvest rituals as precursors to modern genomics in their shared aspiration to influence how nature behaves in future generations of animal and plant species. She makes connections between ritual objects like a corn dolly—an object made through the intricate handcraft of binding straw with the final sheaf of that year’s crop— and contemporary practices of bioinformatics and breeding strategies to create more physically healthy and commercially productive animals. Ikebude makes portraits out of hundreds of thousands of used toothpicks collected from restaurants which retain people’s DNA and microbiomes in the saliva, blood, and food particles on the toothpicks. He raises questions about the location of identity in the complex relationship between one’s body and the microbial community one hosts.

Organizers hope that exhibits at both the Gregg and the Libraries will prompt discussion about genetics in society and offer viewers new ways to think about their role in the genetic revolution. Visitors are also encouraged to visit From Teosinte to Tomorrow, a 100 x 100-foot corn maze planted at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s museum park. This immersive, experiential work takes visitors on an agricultural trip back in time to see the origins of the corn they buy from the grocery today and consider the millennia of cultivation and hybridization techniques that have produced it. The corn maze is up until the end of October 2019.

Art’s Work is guest curated by Hannah Star Rogers, an accomplished curator, poet, and current STIS Visiting Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. Rogers received her MFA in poetry from Columbia University and Ph.D. at Cornell University on the intersection of art and science. She curated Making Science Visible: The Photography of Berenice Abbott, which received an exhibits prize from the British Society for the History of Science and resulted in an invited lecture at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. She is past Director of Research and Collaboration for Emerge: Artists and Scientists Redesign the Future 2016 and served as Guest Bioart Curator for 2017.

Art’s Work developed out of ideas generated during a symposium of scientists, artists, and scholars at the Hunt Library and an interactive pop-up exhibit at CAM Raleigh in April 2017. Six nationally recognized artists working in the realm of biotechnology and genetic engineering showed their work and hosted over 1,100 visitors during the First Friday event at CAM. People touched extracted DNA, sniffed perfumes from extinct flower species, and listened to improvisational musicians interpret genetic structures as musical scores. Feedback from the event and discussion topics from the symposium helped exhibition organizers to focus the art-science lens through which this work can be seen.

Author Margaret Atwood—whose classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale has garnered renewed interest through an acclaimed television series—will visit NC State as a part of Art’s Work on Friday, November 15 from 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. in the State Ballroom at the Talley Student Union. During “An Evening with Margaret Atwood,” the author will read from and discuss her 2003 novel Oryx & Crake, covering a host of issues including genetic manipulation, corporate domination, and global pandemics. Tickets for the event have sold out.

Art’s Work is the result of a collaboration between the NC State University Libraries and the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, realized through partnerships with the Gregg Museum of Art & Design and the North Carolina Museum of Art.



Thursday, October 17, 2019 to Sunday, March 15, 2020


D. H. Hill Jr. Library and Gregg Museum of Art & Design

Other Information

Catalog cover

A full-color, 144-page, printed catalog of the exhibition is available through UNC Press. The catalog is also available in a web viewer here.


Free and open to the public.