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Modern & Contemporary Art & Design: Art, Design, Science and Ethics


Admission requirements

See MA Arts and Culture programme guide and Exam regulations.


In this seminar, we will examine interactions between art, design, the biological sciences and ethics. There is a growing number of international artists and designers that make use of the possibilities of the biological sciences to work with new materials, that is, living materials that traditionally do not belong to the artistic realm. The use of these living materials in artistic and design practice also implies the application of the tools and technologies of the biological sciences in the arts. With references to and the use of biomaterials – tissue, DNA, cells, – in works of art and design, artists and designers have taken on board the discourses and practices in the scientific lab as well.

In this seminar we will reflect on the esthetical, ethical, cultural and societal implications of art and design that addresses and incorporates biological science practices and issues such as designing animals by way of transgenic research, the blurring borders between animals and humans when both are manipulated, definitions of life, etcetera. This seminar will discuss some of the most critical and cutting edge art and design and connect them to theories on rhetoric and to ethical and cultural questions and debates.

Provisional course schedule:

1) Introduction Zwijnenberg/Groot
2) Panel discussion of readings on Utopia’s (Groot)
3) Panel discussion of readings on Utopia’s (Groot)
4) Panel discussion of readings on Technology (Groot)
5) Panel discussion of readings on Human enhancement (Zwijnenberg)
6) Excursion (Zwijnenberg)
7) Panel discussion of readings on Human enhancement (Zwijnenberg)
8) Discussion of research topics
9) Presentation of research paper
10) Presentation of research paper
11) Presentation of research paper
12) Presentation of research paper

Course objectives

Students learn to:

  • analyse contemporary forms of art and design in a critical way and relate them to other contemporary practices

  • reflect on art and design from perspectives of ethical, moral, and philosophical frameworks

  • express critical insights of readings of a philosopical nature in panel discussions

  • present an academic paper of their results before class

  • present their results in a written paper with an analysis of academic quality

  • present a course portfolio with the paper


See the timetable on the Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars.

Assessment method

  • Panel discussions and oral presentation of paper (10%)

  • Written paper of 5000 words (60%)

  • Course portfolio (30%)


Blackboard will be used for this course.

Reading list

To be assigned during the course.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Students who are not in the MA Arts and Culture programme, but who would like to take this course as an optional course, please contact the Co-ordinator of studies.

Contact information

Dr. M.H. Groot
Prof. dr. R. Zwijnenberg


  • This course can be followed for the MA Arts and Culture specialisations: Art of the Contemporary World and World Art Studies, Design and Decorative Art Studies.

  • It can also be followed as a specialist course for the MA Arts and Culture free component (10 ec) of any other specialisation or MA program of Leiden University.