WhiteFeather Hunter is a multiple award-winning Canadian artist-researcher and scholar, as well as educator, arts administrator, curator and writer based in Quebec. She holds an MFA in Fibres and Material Practices from Concordia University and presents her work internationally, most recently at Ars Electronica (AT), transmediale (DE), University of the Arts Helsinki (FI) and various North American cities. WhiteFeather positions her BioArt practice within the context of craft and feminist witchcraft, via material investigations of the aesthetic and technological potential of bodily and vital materials. She hacks/builds electronics, uses web-based platforms to generate new mythologies, works in narrative video, and performance as embodied research. WhiteFeather is Principal Investigator and Technician for the Speculative Life BioLab within the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University and artist-in-residence at Sporobole centre en art actuel in collaboration with Dr Denis Groleau, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Microorganisms and Industrial Processes at Université de Sherbrooke. WhiteFeather will commence a PhD (Arch) at the University of Western Australia in January 2019.

Weaving together: human/nonhuman co-construction in biotextile craft

This presentation investigates the haptic epistemology that occurs co-constructively between artist and live mammalian cells in the production of hands-on, craft-based, tissue-engineered biotextile works. 

#Futurecraft is an emerging genre of research-creation that encompasses a number of traditional, material/ maker methodologies merged with the tools and methods of scientific, technological advance. In this presentation, I will show a 4:00 minute digital video, along with micrographs and other images, to form a didactic visual narrative about processes of mammalian tissue engineering on hand-woven protein fibre scaffolds. This process, which I developed as part of an artistic project named, "Biomateria; Biotextile Craft", sits at the intersection of textiles and biological science in the transdisciplinary application of traditional craft processes to biotechnological laboratory protocols. The video specifically shows the "wet weaving" process followed by seeding live cells onto the scaffolds. This performance with adapted tools, protocols, and the long-term growth of new hybrid "life" forms, as well as the presentation and display of these processes and experimental results are unconventional outputs for both science and craft.

“Wet weaving” is an aseptic, hands-on process invented out of life-and-death necessity. The tools and materials used for biotextile tissue engineering, a method of fostering cell growth into living tissue layers onto an underlying hand-woven structure (the scaffold), must be completely sterile in order to avoid microbial contamination. The human body, a complex holobiont of bacteria, fungi and yeasts, along with what we consider uniquely human material, represents a threat to the health of a single biotextile in a petri dish. This necessity for asepsis dictates the tools and methods and even philosophical frameworks for weaving and runs counter to what we consider "hands-on".

Situated within the frameworks of feminist performative and research-based practice, this work analyzes the “craft” of tissue engineering as a form of haptic epistemology—that is, an embodied enactment/mimicry/redesign through creative and scientific means of the inherent haptic intelligence of the body and its biological systems of growth, repair and regeneration. This paper will highlight four years of biotextile tissue engineering research and artistic production, conducted during laboratory-based artist residencies. I will discuss the resultant artwork(s) that seek to generate an artistic and aesthetic knowledge base, stemming from and centred on the shared labour of physical laboratory experiments with semi-living mammalian cells.