The wait is finally over.

Audiences are invited to join in on celebrating the opening of the new bioart lab at The University of Windsor’s Armouries expansion project which will house the School of Creative Arts (SOCA) commencing January 2018.

Consider this event the launch of a very exciting time for the Windsor arts community which now boasts a state of the art facility in the downtown core. Feasting the Lab is a first “hello” to a long term engagement with Windsor audiences.

Historically, the former SOCA building, Lebel, existed without a large public interface. The new bioart lab takes a different approach with a democratizing function; quite often laboratory spaces are very private, whereas the new bioart lab breaks that political boundary in allowing people to see exactly what’s happening in the space, and encourages learning about biotechnology with a more hands-on or viewer-based approach. It also functions as a multimedia performance venue, intended to be a public lab boasting a clear glass wall front to encourage audience viewership and participation in the long run.

We caught up with Dr. Jennifer Willet (Associate Professor, School of Creative Arts, University of Windsor; Director, INCUBATOR: Hybrid Laboratory at the intersection of Art Science and Ecology) and chatted about her vision for the new bioart lab, her curiosity on the impact of such a space to Windsor’s local ecology and municipality, and of course, the upcoming event, Feasting the Lab:

Jude Abu Zaineh: Jennifer, can you give us a quick crash-course on what bioart is?

Dr. Jennifer Willet: Bioart is a form of contemporary visual art that uses living media in the production of art. So rather than using paint or clay, we can use cells, or enzymes or algae to make art. One of the key differences between bioart and other forms of contemporary art is that there is inherently a bioethical dilemma in manipulating life forms towards human aesthetic ends or towards visual arts ends.

JAZ: Can you tell us about the types of technology that will be present in the new lab?

Dr. JW: It’s a BSL level 2 lab which takes us into a research based space where we will be able to work on organisms and substances (DNA extractions, using human byproducts, bacteria and yeast, as an example). The other technological component is that it will be a multimedia space wired for audio and video outputs, which is unheard of internationally; the idea of having bioart engage directly in multimedia production. I want to think about how it changes our perception of biotechnology if it is cohabitating with the technologies that come from visual arts, entertainment and news media, which will now be possible with this space.

the prior bioart lab

JAZ: What are you hoping to accomplish with this new lab space?

Dr. JW: Right now we see labs as this white canvas, objective space, and I’m curious about creating lab that is situated and has a local community connected to the ecology, its city, the people around it; and I’m not quite sure what this means yet but I think that’s one of the things I want to experiment with in the lab; How can a lab serve a community? How can the lab become part of its local ecology?

JAZ: So, tell us about what Feasting the Lab means.

Dr. JW: FTL will be the very first event that is hosted in the new bioart lab. It is intended to be an absurd, outrageous, cabaret-style ceremony to open the lab. We’re hosting a big party where we’re doing everything in the lab that we’re not allowed to do in a lab once it’s certified. So, at the beginning of the night, the lab will not be certified and we will do things like eat food in there, consume beverages, put on make-up, wear no shoes, all the things that normally go on the health and safety list of things you cannot do in a lab; at the end of the night, the health and safety officer is going to ask us to stop doing all of the things we’re doing in there and he/she is going to certify the lab and that will indicate that the activities in that space will then have to change.

It’s drawing attention to how our relationship to other organisms changes once we’re working in an institutional space. If we’re at home, or camping with friends, we might prepare food in the same space we paint our toenails, or in the same place we replace the oil in our car; those activities all blend together in human practices and ways of engaging with other life forms and byproducts of life forms. Whereas in a lab, we have artificially separated all of those activities in order to maintain things like sterility, health and safety, institutional guidelines…and although that can be useful, the intention is to make it clear that this is artificial.

JAZ: What can audiences expect from the event?

Dr. JW: A very unusual ruckus of a party with live music, performers stemming from the circus arts, and people from contemporary art circles! We are going to feast the lab in the same way you might feast a new house or a new baby; there’s a ceremony of bringing out food and drinks, dancing and having a good time, but there will also be unusual performance art, so it’ll be the coming together of all these different voices in celebration of “feasting the lab.”

Expect food in petri dishes, drinks in test tubes, moody atmosphere complemented by engaging performances and a heightened experience for all your senses.

Feasting the Lab takes place at the downtown Armouries on January 20, 2018 from 7.30-10.30pm.

The night features Marta de Menzes, headlining renowned artist from Portugal, serving up a sangria concoction as part of her performance; Windsor’s favourite DJ, Soul Brother Stef, spinning tunes with a cabaret twist; and free bites and beverages from a local purveyor of fine foods with a cash bar present.

Tell your friends. It’s going to be a wild one.