home Amsterdam Tactical Media Lab-- Singapore, January 1-16, 2003
previous next >

Tactical Media Lab-- Singapore, January 1-16, 2003
Report to N5M4 Editorial Board on Matrixial Technologies

MatriXial Technologies is a collaboration between students, faculty, artists, scientists, researchers, and cyberfeminists from the Cyberarts Programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS), LaSalle SIA College of Art, and subRosa, a US based collective of cyberfeminist cultural producers. The project hopes to map and make visible some local-global flows of human tissues, specifically embryonic stem cell lines and umbilical cord blood stem cells, as a concrete example of networked international relations of bodies and information produced by reproductive and medical biotechnologies. It will analyze how bioinformatics is producing new collective social, intellectual, and political bodies, and how it incorporates the bodies and cells of individual women. We are also interested in tracing if and how old and new relations of colonization, especially endo-colonization-that is, colonization at the molecular, genetic, cellular level----are being reproduced in the economy of stem cell informatics. We are also concerned with the highly disputed issues of life materials patenting and privatizing of genetic heritage and intellectual resources. Singapore is a highly technologized country currently in a race to become a pre-eminent biotech/bioinformatics supplier and life sciences research center in Southeastern Asia.
Activities of the TML:
(MatriXial Technologies is a project by 5 members of the US cyberfeminist art collective subRosa (Faith Wilding, Hyla Willis, Laleh Mehran, Lucia Sommer, Steffi Domike) and core collaborators in Singapore are Irina Aristarkhova, Margaret Tan, Adeline Kueh)
1. Collaborative meetings of the core Matrixial Tech group.
2. Research visit to endangered species cloning lab, National University Hospital
3. Research visit and seminar at CordLife, licensed (private) lab and storage bank for preserving and extracting umbilical cord blood stem cells. Follow-up and research visit and interview with chief scientific researcher and laboratory manager.
4. University Scholars Programme Seminar at NUS: "Art meets Bio-Science: Methodology and Ethics of Interdisciplinary Work." Attended by about 30 researchers, scientists, humanists, artists, students and scholars from the Singapore community. A presentation by Faith Wilding and subsequent public discussion about how artists and scientists might approach interdisciplinary projects that address public issues in cloning, genetic engineering, stem cell research, etc.; and what the ethics and aesthetics of such partnerships or collaborations might be.
5. Cloning Cultures: A two-day workshop organized and presented by subRosa for students and faculty at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. The workshop addressed ideas about becoming post-human and entering the clonal age of genetic engineering and body enhancement. It taught the basic processes of cloning technologies and how stem cell lines are derived. It also surveyed how this clonal consciousness is already highly visible in the current media landscape of Singapore. Students were encouraged to produce collaborative projects addressing the issues presented. They had a great deal of fun and were able to make some projects which reflected both their fears and desires relating to the issues presented by genetic engineering. 6. A public lecture by subRosa on "Art, Activism, and Biotechnology" as part of the LASALLE-SIA Art and Technology Talks (another lecturer in the series, Guy Ben-Ari of Symbiotica, gave his lecture during the same time and we were able to have an interesting public discussion with him).The subRosa lecture presented some of the issues and problems of doing biotech art and discussed tactical media approaches to the subject.
7. Visit and tour of KK Women's Hospital, especially the ICU unit for premature babies, and the maternal and obstetrical wards and facilities. We had a two-hour meeting with a male and female physician who answered many questions about the fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-natal treatment and care of women from the 4 principal population groups of Singapore: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian. Very interesting differences in treatments and women's choices due to both religious and cultural practices were discussed.
8. A subRosa presentation to the Women in the Arts group in Singapore. We showed our work and discussed issues about collaboration and activist art with women and men artists from Singapore.
We also indulged in conviviality, wonderful meals, visiting the famous orchid gardens, the fabulous fabric shops, visiting many different parts of Singapore to learn more about its history and cultures, and celebrating the Chinese New Year.
Chief outcomes of TML:
1. We developed the beginnings of a network of scientists, artists, scholars and researchers in Singapore who will help to advise and collaborate with different aspects of our project.
2. We developed many ideas and some concrete research about the forms our project will take. Specifically we also discussed the various tactics that might work in Singapore as opposed to what might work better in other countries and venues.
3. We worked on our process of collaboration which to us is one of our chief tactical tools. A crucial part of our TML (and our project) turns out to be the process and methods of our inter-continental collaboration. Thus we held a series of long workshop meetings among the core group discussing many issues such as: What are the conditions of feminine subjects of Empire?
How is globalization and capitalist biotech research re-casting classic feminist issues----such as women's economic power and reproductive health and autonomy?
How can we welcome and make productive our differences of culture, values, histories, ethnicities, desire, and class in this project? How do we handle differences in such a project without trying to obliterate them? How can we develop theoretical and practical ways of mediating our differences so that we as women can log on to each other's experience in new ways? What are our relations of production? Can we avoid re-colonizing that might result from pushing various agendas such as that of certain styles of resistance?
How are some of our experiences of assimilation giving us different subject positions?
How can we negotiate the uneven terrain that is the result of long histories of colonialism, and use our access to resources and platforms toward resistant ends that challenge these historical inequities?
How to work in an embodied performative way within these situations?
4. Gaining understanding of Stem cell research and cloning sciences.
Conducting research and building connections. One of our important goals while in Singapore was to meet scientists and doctors involved in stem cell and cloning research and their medical applications. We wanted to begin to establish links and to investigate in what way we could perhaps collaborate with scientists and researchers. We had the opportunity to meet with several research and laboratory scientists and doctors (as noted above). Both scientists and doctors were extremely gracious and welcoming and spent hours with us showing and discussing stem cell and cloning lab processes, answering questions about many aspects of their research and sharing personal points of view about their work in the context of Singaporean culture and ethics. In all cases we found that they were delighted and intrigued to be talking to artists, offered to help us, and were very curious about what we might come up with.
We were interested to find that embryonic stem cell research is also going ahead only with extreme caution in Singapore even though a commercial agreement has been reached between the US and Singapore to supply embryonic stem cell lines. We hope to track many of the insights we gained about the global relations of production in a mapping project about tissue flows.
Altogether, we feel this TML was very useful and productive. We are continuing to develop this project and will meet next in Chicago at >Version 3 where we will offer a workshop about the project thus far. We also hope to offer a presentation and workshop on Matrixial Technologies at N5M4 in Amsterdam in September.

February 18, 2003