Accepted Paper:

Ethico-political Effects of an Accidental Bio-art  

Authors:

Choon Key Chekar (University of Leeds)
Ruth Holliday (University of Leeds)

Paper short abstract:

A Seoul cosmetic surgery created an unusual artwork for publicity purposes. This paper traces the controversial re-use of patients’ jaw bones in different stages of their life cycle, and asks if this work provoked ethico-political reactions to viewers about ethics of care.

Paper long abstract:

Amid the myriad images promoting innumerable types of cosmetic surgery, one particular photograph caused public outrage in South Korea in 2014. Two 60-centimetre-tall decorative glass towers, filled with bone removed from patients' chins - with each piece named with its original owner - had been displayed by a cosmetic surgery clinic in Seoul's Gangnam district, until the picture of the 'jaw bone towers' spread all over the internet, and the clinic received many complaints. This publicity material, intended to be positive, as proof of popularity and exceptional technique, was condemned by the press as bio-hazard that was neglectfully not properly dealt with. The scandal was resolved by the local authority: the towers were removed and a fine was levied on the clinic. Tracing the pieces of bone from inside patients' body to the incineration process illuminates how the meaning and relationship of these bio-objects to society reconfigured - from being an integral part of a human body, to a waste item for disposal, to bizarre art piece and publicity material, to a catalyst of public discussion, then finally back to biowaste. Unlike numerous artistic attempts to bring public debate to the controversial issue of cosmetic surgery in Korea, this image was, unwittingly, a hugely successful bio-art piece, stirring heated debates about the ethics of care, versus a profit-driven beauty industry, human dignity versus invasive medical intervention. This paper asks if the accidental ethico-political effects of this object provide us with an opportunity to critically engage with the concept of biotechnological objects as juridical-civic-political subjects.

Panel T100
Feminist Technoscience Studies in Unexpected Places: (Intra)Activism and Social Justice