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


Admission requirements

See Teaching and Examination Regulations.

This is an MA course for the specializations:

  • Art in the Contemporary World and World Art Studies;

  • Design and Decorative Art Studies.

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


In this seminar, we will examine interactions between art, design, the biological sciences and ethics. A growing number of international artists and designers 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 presentations on course readings, group discussions on course readings, poster pitches and guest speaker or one day excursion.

Course load

Total course load is 10 ec x 28 hours = 28 hours:

  • seminars: 3 hours per week x 13 weeks = 39 hours;

  • studying compulsory readings for seminars = 210 pages a 7 pages per hour = 30 hours;

  • preparing panel presentation, 2 days = 16 hours (reading and discussion of given text with other panel members, preparing presentation);

  • preparing review panel, 1 day = 8 hours (critical reading of given text with other panel members);

  • preparing poster pitch, 3 days = 24 hours (designing poster after collecting material from the start of the seminar);

  • preparing course portfolio, 3 days = 24 hours (editing notes, writing portfolio of 3000 words);

  • writing of final course paper, 5000 words = 140 hours (rereading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper).

Assessment method

  • 20% participation and presentation;

  • 30% course portfolio;

  • 50% seminar paper of 5000 words.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • readings;

  • shared course documents;

  • shared documents of assignments;

  • panel presentations.

Reading list

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

  • 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.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Provisional course schedule:
1 Introduction Zwijnenberg and Groot;
2 Panel discussion of readings on Design (course book) (Groot);
3 Panel discussion of readings on Design (course book) (Groot);
4 Panel discussion of readings on Technology and Design (Groot);
5 Panel discussion of readings on Human enhancement (Zwijnenberg);
6 Excursion or guest speaker (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 Poster pitch and discussion of research topics for paper;
12 Poster pitch and discussion of research topics for paper;
13 Summing up for research topics and course paper.


Mw. Dr. M.H. (Marjan) Groot
Dhr. Prof. dr. ing. R. (Rob) Zwijnenberg