Nell Tenhaaf


Nell Tenhaaf is an electronic media artist and writer. She has exhibited across Canada, in the U.S. and in Europe. Tenhaaf’s studio practice focuses on intersections of

art, science and technology, often in collaborative mode and presented as interactive works. Her works created between 1989 and the mid-1990s were aimed at

deconstructing the dominance in mainstream biological and biotechnology discourse of DNA as the “master molecule.” The discourses themselves have evolved

since then. Later works attempt to represent some of the complex dynamics of life and involve the viewer as one element in a continuous flux, for example in

WinWin (2012), Push/Pull (2009), Flo’nGlo (2005), Swell (2003) and the touch-activated video installation UCBM (You could be me) (1999). Tenhaaf has published

numerous reviews and articles that address the cultural implications of biotechnologies and of Arti cial Life. She has been jury Chair for the Vida/Life art and

arti cial life competition based in Madrid since its inception. Tenhaaf is a Professor in the Visual Arts department of York University in Toronto, Canada, and is

represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art.


Linking together my works since the mid-1990s is the idea of novel social relations that emerge in our interactions with digital media. These have to do with basic

dynamics that we think of as interpersonal, e.g., reciprocity, authority or empathy. My work draws out the agency that an arti cial entity can exhibit when

participating in such dynamics. Artifacts that come out of computational research, such as interactive software or robotics, have begun to take on a more complex

participant role in our social exchanges. These arti cial entities are actants in their own right and have a kind of ontological status in how we study and otherwise

come to understand them.

There are many facets of these developments that interest me, among them: the impact that they have on our own subjectivity; the possibility that they may lead to

a less human-centred view of the world by embracing the non-human both in the form of arti ciality and of other living beings; the history of the science research,

historical and contemporary; and, new possibilities for electronic art practice.


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