Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Transgenic Art

I have been looking over the artwork of Eduardo Kac.

His is art that is not all that new but is certainly new to me.  That doesn’t exactly say much but new to me or not, Kac is still breaking a lot of new ground with his concept of Transgenic Art.  Though I’m not entirely sure it’s ground that needs to be broken.

Kac’s m.o. is to take the advancements in technology, genetics, medicine and many other fields and to create life as art.  Perceptions of what is “human” and “beautiful” are in constant states of flux for any thinking person.  As Kac says on his web page:

“We observe this phenomenon regularly through media representations of idealized or imaginary bodies, virtual-reality incarnations, and network projections of actual bodies (including avatars).”

Keep in mind that was written in 1998, long before the movie.

So what exactly is Transgenic Art? Again, I’ll let Kac say it:

“Transgenic art, I propose, is a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering techniques to transfer synthetic genes to an organism or to transfer natural genetic material from one species into another, to create unique living beings. Molecular genetics allows the artist to engineer the plant and animal genome and create new life forms. The nature of this new art is defined not only by the birth and growth of a new plant or animal but above all by the nature of the relationship between artist, public, and transgenic organism. Organisms created in the context of transgenic art can be taken home by the public to be grown in the backyard or raised as human companions. With at least one endangered species becoming extinct every day, I suggest that artists can contribute to increase global biodiversity by inventing new life forms. There is no transgenic art without a firm commitment to and responsibility for the new life form thus created. Ethical
concerns are paramount in any artwork, and they become more crucial than ever in the context of bio art. From the perspective of interspecies communication, transgenic art calls for a dialogical relationship between artist, creature/artwork, and those who come in contact with it.”

This is where I begin to question things.  I certainly don’t doubt Kac’s intrinsic passion for animals, given his statement about endangered species and what he goes on to say about dogs: “Among the most common domesticated of mammals, the dog is a quintessentially dialogical animal; it is not self-centered, it is empathic, and it is often prone to extroverted social interaction.”  My problem stems from a few of his works, namely Alba, the GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) Bunny.  In 2000, Kac commissioned a French lab to implant a regular rabbit with green fluorescent genes from a jellyfish.  Lo and behold, a glow-in-the-dark bunny was born.  Kac now has intentions to do the same with a dog but that has yet to materialize.

I suppose I must ask, “Do we really need any of this?”  Why must a dog be made to glow in the dark for any reason beyond novelty’s sake?  I like to think of myself as a fairly forward-thinking person, a futurist if I may be so bold, but I’m having a slight tussle with the ethics of Transgenic Art.  Please note that I am not calling Kac a bad guy.  Not at all.  In fact, take a look at these other statements from his site: “These animals are to be loved and nurtured just like any other animal.”  “The result of transgenic art processes must be healthy creatures capable of as regular a development as any other creatures from related species.” 

Guess I’m just trying to sift through all the aspects of transgenic art.  So let’s take a look at his online gallery of Bio Art.  I’m rather intrigued by his work, “Specimen of Secrecy About Marvelous Discoveries.”  As is policy with me for most art, I usually pounce on whatever attracts my eye first.  I figure it must have meaning to me on one level or another.   Anyhow, these pieces are what Kac terms "biotopes," organic pieces that evolve and grow during the exhibition in response to their own internal metabolism and their environment.  The artist, with earth and water as his pallet, then alters the development of the organisms to create different effects.  Truly "bio art." 

Again, I don't think that Eduardo Kac is a bad man and he certainly is a very intelligent and talented individual.  I just question if we have the right to do things such as this to other sentient beings such as Alba.  Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.  I know, I know, the artwork is brilliant for the most part and until I stop eating meat and wearing my leather jacket I don't have much of a leg to stand on.  Still, the questions nag me.

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