Remembering Beatriz da Costa (1974-2012)

We were devastated to learn that Beatriz da Costa passed away on December 27, 2012, from cancer. An intelligent and innovative artist who became a Creative Capital Awardee in 2009, Beatriz initially gave the entirely misleading impression of being physically slight, even fragile. But any notion of wan delicacy was quickly dispelled the moment she was engaged in conversation… about anything. She was articulate, determined, tough-minded and opinionated, in that she possessed a clearly considered opinion about whatever topic was under discussion.

Beatriz da Costa
Our colleague Amanda McDonald Crowley expressed our sentiments exactly when she wrote, “To the very end, Beatriz remained an incredibly strong and determined person, a generous friend, and a courageous and inspired artist.” We loved her energy, her ideas and her wicked, dry sense of humor. We only wish she was allowed more time here to do her work.

In mid-December, Beatriz and her collaborators launched the Anti-Cancer Survival Kit,  part of her Creative Capital-supported project, The Cost of Life. Simultaneously practical, playful and pedagogical in its approach, the kit is something that Beatriz would have liked to have access to when she was first diagnosed with cancer. It is a project her collaborators wish to finalize, in her honor, so that others may benefit from the research she has been doing over the last three years. We encourage you to join us in making a pledge to realize the project on their Rockethub site.

Beatriz’s partner, Robert Nideffer, offered this eloquent remembrance of her life and work:

On Thursday December 27, 2012, in the evening hours, Beatriz Noronha da Costa, beloved daughter, loyal friend, colleague, collaborator, and life partner, took her final breath. She was surrounded in love by those closest to her, with the faintest of smiles crossing her lips in passing.

Beatriz, known as “Shani” to friends and family, was born on June 11, 1974 in Berlin, Germany. Beatriz faced the boundaries of her physical body from a very young age, after being diagnosed and aggressively treated for cancer at age 14, which recurred at 19, and 21. Thankfully, her treatments were successful, and she remained cancer-free for many years thereafter, though her physical condition was permanently impacted by successive treatments.

She moved to southern France in 1995 to study art at the Ecole d’Art d’Aix-en-Provence, a place for which she always retained a special fondness. It was here that her interest in the intersection of art and technology really took off. She received her Diplôme National Superieur d’Expression Plastique (with honors) in 2001. As part of an exchange program, she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1999 to pursue graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). While at CMU Beatriz became part of a unique group of artists working in creative and conceptually compelling ways across a range of scientific and technical disciplines, and she served as both an associate researcher and courtesy faculty at CMU. She briefly taught at Chatham College, then as a visiting assistant professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, before accepting a joint appointment between the departments of Studio Art (as it was then named) and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine, in 2003.

Beatriz was brought to UC Irvine to be a founding member of the Arts Computation, Engineering (ACE) graduate program, a highly innovative, experimental, and interdisciplinary program granting a two-year MFA/MS degree. She soon became affiliate faculty in the Informatics department, as well as the Culture and Theory PhD program due both to her own background and practice and to the desire of students from a wide variety of academic disciplines to work with her.

Beatriz was a fierce and fearless proponent for social justice, and challenged inequity whenever and wherever she could, without overtly moralizing. Her art was path-breaking and took whatever shape served it best, whether robotics, micro-electronics, installation, sculpture, performance, interactivity, net art, photography or video—or, as was usually the case, some combination thereof. She also considered writing an important part of her practice, co-editing the widely influential MIT Press anthology Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience in 2008. She was rare in her ability to create work that bridged the arts and sciences, and frequently engaged the public by running workshops that translated challenging new technical and scientific developments into something accessible to a more general public. Some of her better-known projects include works done in collaboration with Critical Art Ensemble, like Molecular Invasion, Free Range Grains and GenTerra, and several projects done with Preemptive Media, such as Swipe, Zapped, Air and Pigeonblog.

Due to the illnesses she experienced in her youth, Beatriz lived with the sense that she had little time, and she knew perhaps better than most how precious it was. Throughout her life, Beatriz traveled extensively, visiting her father’s family in Goa, India, and becoming familiar with much of Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East during her professional life. In 2007, after receiving tenure at UC Irvine, she began work on a PhD in the History of Consciousness program at UC Santa Cruz.

Unexpectedly and tragically, in 2009, she was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer and began treatment in California. By 2010, as Beatriz was traveling through New York to give talks in Europe, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain. Beatriz decided to stay in New York for further treatment.

Beatriz handled her disease with strength and dignity. For her it was essential to continue to make work, no matter how sick she became. Her final projects—The Life Garden, Dying for the Other, the Delicious Apothecary and The Anti-Cancer Survival Kit—dealt with her experience as a person living with cancer, something she had earlier promised herself she would never do. Her position shifted because she was able to find a place from which to provoke and reflect without the work becoming solely about her. As testimony to her fiercely independent spirit and the sheer force of her will, she often did all of this while in great pain and—in the last several months of her life—as her ability to walk, her motor skills, her hearing and her vision deteriorated. Through all of the physical challenges, the anxiety, the fear and the many smaller difficulties of living daily life with cancer, she never stopped planning for the future and trying to care for those around her, and amazingly, she never lost her sense of humor.

Beatriz is survived by her mother, her extended family and network of friends, her partner Robert Nideffer, and her beloved canine companion and little bringer of light, Lucinha. A funeral service will be held in Ahrensburg, Germany on January 18th, followed by memorials in New York and Los Angeles, to be announced.

More information about her work can be found at