Originally published in Genolog, a project of the new media art journal SWITCH, Vol. 6, N. 1, 2000.
Uploaded on Thursday June 08, 2000.
On Friday June 2 Chicago based artist Eduardo Kac gave a public lecture at the Harbour Centre in Vancouver. This was part of the new-media arts group Digital Earth's - " Zero Degree Monstrosities" lecture series. Kac introduced his latest project entitled "GFP Bunny".
Alba the bunny was born in Jouy-en-Josas, France in February. Alba is transgenic art. Alba glows green when illuminated with a blue light. Alba can be viewed by the public, together with the artist in an exhibition space in Grenier a Sel, Avignon France from June 15 through 25.
Transgenic art uses synthetic or natural genetic material in another organism to create new forms of life. Normally transgenic animals are "objects" of scientific inquiry. Kac describes Alba not as an art object but as a transgenic social subject.
" My intention is to shift the discussion around transgenics, from objects that are used for a purpose to an appreciation of the perceptual and cognitive life of that individual transgenic animal. The point is then to highlight the uniqueness of that individual and also to shed some light on the question of purity, because as we start to breed animals É we are talking about the notion of pure race É Here is a transgenic animal that challenges the notion of purity."
GFP (green fluorescent protein) is a bioluminescent substance, which is found in Pacific Northwest jellyfish. Scientists have isolated the gene sequence that codes for GFP and since 1995 have been inserting it into the embryos of frogs and mice. Therefore this is a genetic intervention based on an established risk free outcome. Kac worked together with the French zoosystemician Louis Bec and scientists Louis-Marie Houdebine and Patrick Prunnet. The GFP was transferred to each cell of the bunny.
Kac cited his reasons for choosing the bunny. He was seeking to engage the mind of an individual and create a shared space, which he said is very difficult to create with a fly. Rabbits can interact with their kind, think and play. The rabbit is the largest mammal you can work with, it is an animal you can look in the eye.
Kac will live and care for Alba in the gallery space in France. After the exhibition, artist and Alba will return to Chicago to live together with his family. Forming a negotiation of the complex relationship between the public life of the rabbit in the gallery and the private life of the family on return to Chicago.
" The artwork is the whole complex social event, it involves bringing her into this world, integrating her socially in this case into family life and the conversations that this whole project creates "
Kac's other objectives include "expansion of the present practical and conceptual boundaries of art making to incorporate life invention" and a consideration of a non-semiotic notion of communication as the sharing of genetic material across traditional species barriers"
He proposes GFP Bunny as a future form of interactive art "GFP Bunny gives continuation to my focus on the creation, in art, of what Martin Buber called dialogical relationship, what Mikhail Batkhin called dialogic sphere of existence, what Emile Benveniste called intersubjectivty and what Humberto Maturana calls consensual domains : shared spheres of perception, cognition and agency in which two or more sentient beings (human or otherwise) can negotiate their experience dialogically.
In an earlier work entitled "Genesis" Kac created a fantasy gene by translating a sentence from the book of Genesis into Morse code and then translating that code into DNA base pairs using a conversion technique specially developed for the work. The sentence was then translated back into English. "LET AAN HAVE DOMINION OVER THE FISH OF THE SEA AND OVER THE FOWL OF THE AIR AND OVER EVERY LIVING THING THAT IOVES UA EON THE EARTH"
Kac views the debate around the cultural and ethical implications of genetics as being very polarized, the bio-tech companies themselves are not engaging in any serious dialogue neither are the people at the other end of the spectrum who remain only seriously opposed.
"Artists are citizens who do not come from a technocratic background and they are not focused on extracting specific commercial benefits from the inventions of genetic engineering so artists can offer important alternatives to the polarized debate."
What of Kac's own view on genetic engineering? " I cannot oppose it if I am using the green bunny for debate. At the same time I do not agree with many practices, such as the patenting of life."
The debate that night - questions from the audience ranged from "Where does art stop and nature begin ?"; Will you breed her ? to "Is the end of the art project when the rabbit dies ?".
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