For the last four years, the mere mention of bio art in Buffalo has carried with it an unmistakable air of danger and mystery. For that we have to thank the highly publicized ordeal of University at Buffalo professor Steven J. Kurtz, whose biologically based art became the subject of a four-year federal investigation.

But for CEPA Artistic Director Sean Donaher, the entire Kurtz affair shifted the discussion away from the art itself and toward the political implications surrounding it.


WHAT: "Trans-Evolution: Examining Bio Art"

WHEN: Tonight through Dec. 20

WHERE: CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St.


INFO: 856-2717 or

"It completely overshadowed the artistic endeavor that a lot of artists who work in bio art are trying to bring to the public," Donaher said.

But now, through a major exhibition opening tonight at CEPA Gallery, Donaher and the gallery are seeking to reverse that tide and bring the actual work of bio artists into sharper focus. The show is also meant to bring attention to the area's growing biotechnology industry, whose representatives, according to CEPA Director Lawrence Brose, are "all flipping out over this. They just think it's great."

The show, dubbed "Trans-Evolution: Examining Bio Art," features three projects representing distinct areas of this hybrid field of art and science. At its center is a piece by Buffalo artist and UB professor Paul Vanhouse, "Latent Figure Protocol," in which DNA samples are used to create electronic images.

Perhaps the most obviously socially conscious piece in the show comes from Brooklyn- based artist Elizabeth Demaray, who has constructed an enormous ant farm contraption in CEPA's second-floor gallery. Its background is a green silhouette of the Buffalo skyline with the conspicuous addition of the famed golden arches of Mc-Donald's. Demaray has transplanted an entire colony of harvester ants into her outsized farm, which is connected through a long, clear tube to a table strewn with Mc-Donald's Happy Meals. The ants crawl down the tube, break off pieces of the calorie-and sugar-laden food, and bring it back to the colony. The point is to gauge what effect, if any, the food has on the ants' burrowing habits.

At first glance, Demaray's project seems like a kind of "Super Size Me" for the insect population. But Demaray insists her project, unlike Morgan Spurlock's frightening look at the effects of McDonald's food on humans, is not meant as a critique of fast food. Rather, she says "Corpor Esurit, or we all deserve a break today," as the installation is titled, serves as a prompt for viewers to consider the effects of what we eat on other populations. She is concerned, as she puts it, with "the consumption of nature and the nature of what we consume."

Demaray's conceptual art projects have ranged from knitting sweaters for plants and upholstering rocks in their natural environments to creating a series of listening stations to determine what sort of music birds prefer to listen to (no verdict as yet). At their heart, these projects are Demaray's attempts to use scientific techniques to critique the way humans interact with their natural environments.

"I think the reason that it's art" - as opposed to science - "is that I'm more interested in the viewer," Demaray said. "The quality of the viewer, the quality of the interaction of the person in relationship to the piece. I think that's the difference between the artistic practice and the scientific practice."

The same goes for the show's third segment, by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Australian-based artists whose projects "Victimless Leather" and "NoArk" both employ the synthetic generation of living tissue to make points about human social interactions, albeit with somewhat macabre overtones. In "NoArk," tissues and cells are combined to produce "a chimerical 'blob' made out of modified living fragments of a number of different organisms."

The point of all this?

"We're not putting any particular spin on the work that's presented," Donaher said. "We're putting the art out there, explaining it and letting people generate the conversation."