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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Bio-Art Pioneer Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

June 30, 2010

Rensselaer Bio-Art Pioneer Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Kathy High

Bio-art pioneer Kathryn High, an associate professor of electronic arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Guggenheim Fellowship. The fellowship is a prestigious recognition of High’s importance in the emerging field of bio-art, which explores the blurred line of life created by the study of biotechnology.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation granted the one-year $35,000 fellowship to support a new series of multimedia projects titled the “Vampire Study Group” (VSG).

“The Rensselaer community offers its congratulations to Kathy High with the news that her work has been recognized by the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation,” said Rensselaer Provost Robert Palazzo. “Kathy’s sensitive challenges to biotechnology add a valuable philosophic dimension to the work we do at Rensselaer.”

 A videographer and artist, High has long been interested in the questions raised by biotech research employing life in stasis – cells kept alive artificially, samples of live blood and bone, animals altered to suit research.

“I’m interested in notions of neo-dead - not really living, not really dead: The idea about immortality and the quest for immortality that I think drives a lot of scientific research,” High said.

“VSG projects specifically look at the body, the biological manipulation of life, and present a dystopic view of the future of the human species,” High said in her project proposal. “In cultural history vampires play on erotic fantasies and fears. Currently there is a surge of interest in the vampire myth seen in popular media with such television series as True Blood, and movies such as Twilight and Let the Right One In. This popular culture trend may be commenting on more than it knows about the state of society and science.”

High developed her ideas for the Vampire Study Group during a three-month residency with the seminal bio-art research center SymbioticA. At SymbioticA, a unique facility within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, artists interact daily with scientists, and practice lab skills like tissue culturing, microscopy, and taxidermy.

High’s projects will be documented on a website, allowing people to follow them and even contribute ideas.

High credited Rensselaer for supporting earlier projects that ultimately led to the Guggenheim. In 2007, High embarked on a 16-month BioArts Initiative at Rensselaer – a collaboration between the Arts Department and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies – that earned her international recognition. That project in turn led to a RAMP-Up grant, which funded a three-month residency with SymbioticA.

Contact: Mary L. Martialay
Phone: (518) 276-2146