Contemporary Art @ Bo─čaziçi - Interview Project, 2010

Marta De Menezes (Lisbon, 1975)

Andi Nahmias,

Marta De Menezes: “I do not try to find out how things work, I do not worry about reproducibility of any experiment that I perform. I’m worried about concepts, about meaning, about interpretation, and most importantly, extrapolation of meanings.”

Marta De Menezes is a Portuguese artist who was born in 1975. Art and Biology had been the fields that she was working on for the recent years. As a difference from the other artists; instead of working in art studios; she works in laboratories. She thinks that the new biological techniques can be used as a new art medium so that; the laboratories can be the ‘new art studios’. She has very interesting projects like; creating butterflies with modified wing patterns; painting with DNA, visualizing the hidden body, creating sculptures with proteins and etc. Here we talked about her art; what she thinks about the new art form; and her ideas about using biotechnology in art works.

Andi Nahmias: What do you think about using biotechnology in ‘art works’?

Marta De Menezes: I think of it as using a technology, very much like we started using photography to make artworks, it is not the technology we use that makes something a work of art or science, it is what it represents, what it is concerned with, what it makes you think.

Andi Nahmias: Do you call yourself an artist then?

Marta De Menezes: Of course I’m an artist; I do not try to find out how things work, I do not worry about reproducibility of any experiment that I perform. I’m worried about concepts, about meaning, about interpretation, and most importantly, extrapolation of meanings.

Andi Nahmias: Do you think that is it a new “art form”?

Marta De Menezes: I have no doubt that it will be more common in the future, we see now a greater interest in the subject, we see more and more courses being taught about art and biology, more and more exhibitions. Is it because it is a new kind of art? I’m not sure, but there is something unique about it, which is difficult to ignore. This art is alive, and because of that it seems to hold more meaning to us… It is a new form in the sense that it takes on a new shape, the shape of the life it lives in. Go to to see more things!

Andi Nahmias: What do you think is the craziest and most probably the hardest thing to do with the usage of biotechnology?

Marta De Menezes: I have no idea! Everything that has been imagined already exists or is in the process of creation, not in artist’s studios but in science labs. Do the artists push it forward? Maybe!

Andi Nahmias: What kind of communication are you talking about when you said: “Proteins and cells offer an opportunity to explore novel ways of representation and communication”?

Marta De Menezes: I mean they are a new medium; they are the paper and pencil, the brush and paint, the stone, the metal, the clay! But even if we take them as such, a new medium, you must understand that they pose a new problem for representation, they are representing concepts, but not in a strict conceptual way, they are “real” and the relations they establish with the artist, and the viewer, are unique. What is being represented, and by what?

Andi Nahmias: Would you voluntarily accept your body to be used as “a test subject” in such experiments?

Marta De Menezes: I wouldn’t personally use my body, but art has a great tradition of using the body as its medium. I have no a priori problems with that; only case by case.

Andi Nahmias: Do you think that previous education in this field is necessary?

Marta De Menezes: Not necessarily previous education in biotechnology; but strong involvement, a lot of research and a healthy dosage of learning desire.

Andi Nahmias: “Modern biology and biotechnology offer the opportunity to create art using biology as new media.” you said. Which project would you call ‘the most spectacular one’ or ‘the most popular one’ that you have completed so far; as the form of “new media”?

Marta De Menezes: The most spectacular on is, in my view, the protein. Proteic Portrait proved to me and to the scientists that you can make a completely alien protein. It was exciting and very lucky! We didn’t know if it was going to work until we saw it at the end of the protocol!

It was a lucky hit that I had the chance to talk with Marta De Menezes; the artist that keeps on amazing me with her artworks all the time. What makes her so unique is; her difference from the other artists. She makes different things and she catches you with her extra-ordinary projects or art works. As we can see in Philip Ross, Marta’s exhibitions, publications and projects are mostly about the nature too. They both work with nature, but the difference between them is; Philip astonishes us with the beauty that is hidden in the nature spontaneously, he alerts us to see this beauty. Where as, here Marta, tells us that, nature is changeable. We can take the natural things; and create some other things from them. In other words; she modifies the nature and her re-creations surprise us all the time.