Eye To Eyebeam: A Conversation With Beatriz da Costa


Beatriz da Costa’s multidisciplinary projects are bioart with a heart, installations, videos, and performances that artfully merge biotechnology and social issues. Many of her projects entail the idea and practice of “public amateurism,” in which artists conduct science research based on hobbyism and DIY interest as a form of active social participation. Over many years Beatriz has produced cross-species projects in which microbes, pigeons, and genetically modified crops have played a key role. In the Life Garden, an installation from her latest series The Costs of Life, she blends medical research related to cancer with her personal experiences to create a greenhouse filled with plants that are medicinal for treating cancer. Beatriz generously answered a few questions proposed by intern Katherine DiPierro about her engaging interdisciplinary work.

Katherine DiPierro: ”The Cost of Life” is your current project series, in which you explore the economical, ethical, and emotional costs of staying alive through videos and new media. I’d like to know more about your latest project in the series, “The Life Garden.”

Beatriz da Costa: The Life Garden, is an indoor medicinal demonstration garden consisting of plants, herbs and mushrooms that have shown anti-cancer properties in in vitro, animal and/or human studies. It is meant to serve as a vehicle for the visceral experience of the living environment and inspire discussion of herbal and plant based cancer treatment among visitors.

KD: In addition to being a resident at Eyebeam, you’ve held workshops here in the past as a member and co-founder of the group Preemptive Media. Could you tell me more about a few of Preemptive Media’s projects?

BdC: I have also offered Tactical Gizmology workshops even prior to that (with Critical Art Ensemble), but I think that both those workshops as well as earlier Preemptive Media collaborations were such a long time ago, that maybe we shouldn’t go into too much detail here. The Preemptive Media workshop, was directly linked to “AIR,” a project commissioned by Eyebeam and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. AIR was a public experiment during which we invited participants to use our portable air monitoring devices to investigate their neighborhoods and urban environments for evidence of pollution and fossil fuel burning hotspots. The workshop at Eyebeam involved discussions about public data gathering and test-runs of our devices (the technical design of those was rather complex, to say the least). We also conducted workshops at Eyebeam related to even earlier work, but for those it might be easiest to simply check-out Preemptive Media’s website.

KD: You’re also a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and many of your installations and video projects hold elements of the scientific research. How have your roles as a professor, artist, and activist connected over the course of your career?

BdC: Thats a very interesting question. Actually its been a thread throughout my work until very recently. I think being linked to knowledge institutions such as universities puts artists in a rather unique role. We have (if we are so inclined) access to expertise in all kinds of areas that wouldn’t be so easy to get to as an artist working outside the academy. I always felt that access to be a kind of political responsibility, serving as a vehicle, if you will, between between the direction as well.

KD: Several of your pieces involve the interspecies interactions, from genetically modified plants and animals to plants and animals on the verge of extinction. What inspired you to investigate this topic?

BdC: I guess its just an interest in the role of our relationships with the non-human living world, and its influence in the development of our values and ethical beliefs towards the planet as a whole.

Thanks so much for the interview, Beatriz! For the latest news on Beatriz da Costa's work, be sure to check out her personal site.