From early childhood Ellen ter Gast (1971) was fascinated by the mysteries of life and the way we make sense of it. She studied medical biology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and did a PhD at The Radboud University Nijmegen. In Biotech Pioneers, Ellen explores the hopes and fears that underly the biotech revolution by presenting its protagonist the mouse as a monster, a hero, a Messiah, a living artefact and, last but not least, a pitiful lab animal.
The biotech revolution raises a number of questions that are food for thought to bio-philosophers. What is the definition of life? What is ‘natural’? What is a species boundary? What is it like to be genetically engineered? And last, but not least, what do we mean when we say that ‘ethical’ boundaries are crossed in the lab? Ellen finds the answers at the cross roads between art, science and philosophy. Her article “How Art Saves the World” explore the importance of bringing together these fields.
In 2003 Ellen joined The Arts & Genomics Centre (TAGC) in Leiden. Within this unique collaboration of natural scientists, art historians, philosophers and artists, she discovered the value of the artists’ perpective for a better understanding of the meaning of modern life sciences. Ever since Ellen has been working with a diverse group of international artists with whom she shares her fascination for (bio)technology. For example, she can be seen as the biotech and ethics advisor in The Modular Body (2016) by Floris Kaayk. At the Waag society Ellen was a member of the Trust me I am an Artist ethics committee who assessed Adam Zarestky’s Mutate or Die project proposal (2014) and Maja Smrekar’s K9 Topology (2017).
From 2014 to 2017 Ellen was the art-science programme developer and teacher at iArts in Maastricht; an innovative, international art school for interdisciplinary artists. In this position Ellen was responsible for courses on art-science, artistic research, critical engaged art and multidisciplinary collaboration.