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


Admission requirements

See Teaching and Examination 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.

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;

  • evaluate presentations of their peers in jury panels;

  • Present a poster of their research project in progress before class;

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

  • Reflect on their progress and participation during the course in a course portfolio.


Please consult the timetable on the MA Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction

Research seminar with panel and group discussions, presentations and one day excursion.

Course Load


Assessment method

  • Panel presentation and jury panel: 20%

  • Poster presentation and course portfolio of 3000 words: 30%

  • Written paper of 5000 words: 50%


Blackboard will be used for readings and panel presentations.

Reading list

  • William Myers and Paola Antonelli (editors), Bio Design: Nature. Science. Creativity, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2012 (ca. €30 at;

  • Additional readings will be assigned during the course.


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

Exchange and Study Abroad students: Please see the website Study in Leiden for information on how to apply/register for this course.

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 Mrs. Joëlle Koning MA the co-ordinator of studies.


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


This course can be taken for the MA Arts and Culture specialisations:

  • Art in the Contemporary World and World Art Studies

  • Design and Decorative Art Studies;

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

  • 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) Panel discussion of readings
10) Panel discussion of readings
11) Presentation of research poster and discussion of research topics for paper
12) Presentation of research poster and discussion of research topics for paper
13) Summing up for research topics and course paper