This chapter presents the volume’s investigation into artistic engagements with life sciences and biopolitical questions, in recent European and North American fiction, poetry, graphic novels and performance. It outlines the twenty-first-century’s emergent biological imagination as an interdiscursive phenomenon, nourished by the circulation of ideas and images between artistic work, popular science, and philosophy. In this cross-fertilizing process, contemporary artists are engaging with life forms and perspectives that challenge representation: relational entities such as symbionts, fungal networks or microbial communities; and eco-biological ‘hyperobjects’ whose complexity defy easy representation, such as climate change or population dynamics. By engaging with scientific representations, literature and performance question the aesthetic and political implications of current modes of visualisation, including medical imaging and ecosystem modelling, but also the shifting metaphors of biological and medical discourse.
The introduction presents some of the key political questions arising from medical, ecological and pandemic imaginaries, and examines the current extension of biopolitical questions to relations beyond the human. We then turn to the volume’s focus on questions of scale. Creative practice, as the following chapters show, is responding both to the planetary scale of our current ecological crisis and to new areas of knowledge opened up by neurology and microbiology. Contemporary art thus foregrounds and problematizes relations between the meso-scale of everyday human experience and the micro- or macro- scales of our increased biomedical and ecological awareness. Finally, the introduction outlines some of the key aesthetic trends identified by the collection, presenting new categories such as the molecular sublime, the fungal weird, cosy catastrophe fiction, the post-pastoral detective novel, or plant theatre. We argue that aesthetic form, by extending our perception to scales and perspectives hitherto ignored, contributes to the new politics of attention demanded by the twenty-first century.