Giannachi, Gabriella. "Eduardo Kac", in: Giannachi, Gabriella. Politics New Media Theatre: Life®, (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 94-99.

Eduardo Kac

Since 1998, Eduardo Kac has been engaging with transgenic art, a form, he claims, in which ‘ the animate and the technological can no longer be distinguished’ (2002).  Its aim is 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’ (in Stocker and Schöpf, 1999: 289).  At the heart of this interest is the ‘ possibility of communication’ between species (Kac, 2002).  Whereas the scientists discussed in the previous sections of this chapter claim that scientific research, biomedical advance and commercial viability are the principal aims of their practice, Kac’s interests are grounded in the aesthetic, social and indeed political connotations of his work.
Kac’s most controversial piece GFP Bunny (2000) ‘ comprises the creation of a green fluorescent rabbit (named Alba), its social integration, and its ensuing public debate’ (Kac in Kostic and Dobrila, 2000: 101).  The GFP is a green fluorescent protein isolated from Pacific Northwest jellyfish which emits a bright green light when exposed to UV or blue light (Kac in Stocker and Schöpf, 1999: 289).  The rabbit, Alba, constituted a new species in that she was inserted with the jellyfish gene and so, although she was completely white, she glowed when illuminated in a certain light (Kac in Kostic and Dobrila, 2000: 102).  Kac defines Alba as a chimerical animal, in the sense of a ‘ cultural tradition of imaginary animals’ (Kac, 2002) and perceives the project as encompassing the contestation  of   the alleged supremacy of DNA in life creation in favour of a more complex understanding of the intertwined relationship between genetics, organism and environment’.  Kac, who also aimed at the ‘ integration and presentation of “GFP Bunny” in a social and interactive context’,  was encouraging the ‘‘ expansion of the present practical and conceptual boundaries of art making to incorporate life invention’ (ibid.).  For Kac, what was crucial in GFP Bunny, was not only the rabbit’s actual creation, but its socialisation, its entrance into the public and, especially, domestic domain, in other words, its becoming a family pet, a bunny (Figure 5.2).  Thus, Kac claims ‘ (t)he word “aesthetics” in the context of transgenic art must be understood to mean that creation, socialization, and domestic integration are a single process” (ibid., added emphasis).
To allow for a public viewing of Alba, Kac had transformed the exhibition space in Avignon, where the piece was meant to take place, into a ‘ cozy living room’ that included a couch where Kac could live with Alba for a week in order to convey the idea ‘ that biotechnologies are on their way to entering our lives at the most basic level:  in our private homes’ (Andrews in Kac, 2002).  However Kac’s plans to domesticate the transgenic rabbit and thereby transform Alba into his family bunny failed when, shortly before the opening, the director of the institute that had engineered Alba refused to release her for public viewing (ibid.).  This denial to exhibit Alba as an anomal forced Kac to reduce the piece to his own public appeals for her discharge and the promotion of her case through his website, further exhibitions, talks and writings.
The piece, Kac suggests, was meant to stimulate a debate on the notions of ‘ nor-malcy, heterogeneity, purity, hybridity and otherness’ while also showing ‘ consi-
deration for a non-semiotic notion of communication as the sharing of genetic material across cognitive life of transgenic animals’ (in Kostic and Dobrila, 2000: 102).  The original plan was no remove Alba from the laboratory of science and relocate her to a public art gallery.  This implied a process of both geographical and cultural dis-location whereby the anomal would have been removed from its ‘ natural’ laboratory environment to be reinstalled in an ‘ un-natural’ artistic environment as an animal.  First, Kac had planned to remove Alba from her secluded, undomesticated, life as an anomal and instead offered her a life as an exhibit, not of science, but of art.  This would have implied that Alba would have ceased to perform as an object of research and commerce, and started to perform aesthetically, as a subject.  Second, Kac intended to exhibit Alba in what was actually  a reproduced (i.e. fake, not real) domestic environment, to show how transgenic life was penetrating our (already culturally determined) every lives.  Through this act, Kac was not only reclaiming Alba as a pet but also as an animal with an anima.
In theatre and performance art, the animal is often used do disrupt the schermes of representation (see Giannachi and Kaye, 2002: 137ff.), whether, as in case of Societas Raffaello Sanzio, to ‘ suggest a pre-linguistic occupation of the stage’, an‘ “anti-theatrical” presence in its resistance to and evasion of the drama’s rhetorical means’, such as an ‘ inevitable lack of technique’ (in ibid.: 150, emphasis added), or, as in the case of Motu’s Orpheus’ Glance (1999), to indicate an ‘ ungovernability within the work’ (ibid.: 195).
Thus the animal is used to introduce unpredictability, pre-discursiveness, rupture or chaos.  In GFP Bunny, however, the anomal, deprived of its anima, cannot become animal and so cannot change.  Not only is the animal, absent from the title of the piece, which of course indicates not so much the animal itself as its becoming, from GFP to Bunny (from protein to pet), but also, like all other anomals, it was actually absent from the exhibition, thus rendering Alba more of a media apparition than part of our everyday lives.
In discussing becoming animal, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari point out   that ‘ becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself and ‘ produces nothing by filiation’ (1999: 238).  In other words, the act of becoming escapes the product-obsessed capitalist market economy in favour of a more fluid, process-oriented ontology.  Because of the strong association between Darwinian evolution and economic development, it is also possible to argue that becoming escapes the processes of evolution. According to Deleuze and Guattari, becoming is in fact ‘ invol-  utionary’ (ibid.: 238-9), moving between terms, with a direction, but without the possibility of a catharsis.  Thus becoming is the prolongation of the middle, the paradoxical dream of the possibility of not ending:

Becoming produces nothing other than itself.  We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are.  What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.                                                                    
                                                                                           (ibid.: 238)
This ‘ involutionary’ act of becoming, which allows for the possibility of a movement between terms, with a direction, but without a resolution, is at the heart of Kac’s complex transgenic work GFP Bunny.  Here, it is Alba’s transformation from anomal to animal, i,.e. her becoming animal, that is what we are meant to witness.  Her involutionary and pre-discoursive drama, her becoming, however, was not allowed to take place.  In other words, her tragedy could not happen.  Like other anomals, Alba was trapped in her theatre of science, unable to leave and thus ultimately unable to live (to breathe).
In discussing the etymological root of the word anomal/anomalous, Deleuze and Guattari refer to Georges Canguilhem’s study On the Normal and the Pathological (1978: 73-4) in which ‘ (t)he abnormal can be defined only in terms of characteristics, specific or generic; but the anomalous is a position or set of positions in relation to a multiplicity’ (1999: 244).  Thus the term ‘ anomalous’, they point out, indicates the relationship between an individual and the multitude, drawing attention to ‘ a peripheral position, such that it is impossibible to tell if the anomalous is still in the band, already outside the band, or at the shifting boundary of the band’.  This suggests that the anomal constitutes the liminal space of both the human and non-human animal.  Because of this liminality, the anomal, like the cyborg, is impure, contaminating and therefore unfit for domestication.  Hence the anomal is hidden in the laboratory of science, publicly seen only through mediation (formula, text, video, photo, Internet).  And yet because ‘ stability is assured in catastrophe by a barrier’ (245, original emphasis), and because the anomal is in fact the barrier separating us from the unknown, i.e. protecting us from what one simply cannot be, the anomal represents the limit of what it means to be animal, whether human or not human, or, better, of what it means not to be animal, not to be human.
Unquestionably, the anomal, like the cyborg, also exists at the level of fiction, as a monster, chimera, marvel, centaur, sphinx, minotaur.  Interestingly, the word monster comes from the Latin Monstrum, which in its turn is connected to monere, to warn (OED).  Thus the monster is there to warn us, to protect us, but also to frighten us.  Yet the monster, like the sirens, also lures us.  As Elaine Graham suggests, the Greek term for monster, teras,

conveys something that is both abhorrent and attractive.  The monstrous body is pure paradox, embodying contradictory states of being, or impossibilities of nature. (...)  The monster is both awful and aweful;  and insofar as the monster synthesizes taboo and desire, it further articulates its ambivalence for its creators.

                                                                                             (2002: 53)
In Graham’s analysis, monsters therefore represent the

demonstration of the workings of différance.  Their otherness to the norm of the human, the natural and the moral, is as that which must be repressed in order to secure the boundaries of the same.  Yet at the same time, by showing forth the fault-lines of binary opposition - between human/non-human, natural/unnatural, virtue/vice - monsters bear the trace of difference that destabilises the distinction.
                                                                      (ibid.: 54, added emphasis)

Deleuze and Guattari tell us that there are three kinds of animals:  1) what they           call ‘ individuated animals’, like family pets, ‘ sentitmental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, “my” cat, “my” dog.
These animals invite us to regress, draw us into narcissistic contemplation, and they are the only kind of animal psychoanalysis understands’;  2) ‘ animals with characteristics or attributes; genus, classification, or State animals; animals as they are treated in the great divine myths, in such a way as to extract from them series or structures, archetypes or models’ and  3) ‘ demonic animals’ ‘ pack or affect animals that form a multiplicity, a becoming, a population, a cale ...’ (1999: 240-1).  Anomals have characteristics from all three levels and yet escape identification with any one of them.  They are not only transgenic, they are trans-classificatory.  They are the monsters of the new millennium, a property/pet (the Roslin Institute’s sheep), a brand (OncoMouse  ), an organ and even a food bank, safeguarding the future of the human species, a ‘ population’.  They are both in our fictions, in our imaginary, as ‘ demonic animals’, and they are out there, hidden away in the laboratories of science, setting the path to our future.
They are both metaphorically and physically indispensable to the evolution of our society and yet they themselves are not allowed to evolve in their own terms.  Reduced to the status of props, tools even, anomals are trapped in a human-controlled theatre of science.
Anomals may well work towards the end of famine, pollution, poverty, just as they may help to eradicate a large number of diseases in humans.  And yet, as recently indicated by the New Scientist’s own Editorial a certain ‘ yuck factor’, i.e. ‘ that visceral feeling that there’s something wrong, even if you cannot say what’ (2005: 5), has been preventing us not so much from believing in biotechnological experimentation, as from wanting to be in any way engaged with it.  This ‘ not wanting to know’ constitutes a dangerous position to hold which may have potentially devastating consequences.  As suggested by Haraway, ‘ (t)he global commodification of genetic resources is a political and scientific emergency’ (1997: 62, added emphasis).  In fact, some patents are so broad that they can give individual companies ‘ a virtual monopoly over the use of whole species’ (Rifkin, 1998: 47).  Geron and the Roslin Institute alone, for instance, control most of the patents and intellectual property associated with cloning.  Moreover, it is acknowledged that cloned animals are often ill and of fragile health (Genewatch UK 2000: 2) and there are still no studies on the lasting effects of these technologies on human and non-human animals.  It is also known that animal suffering and reduction of the gene pool represent a concrete danger for life on this planet.  And yet 50 milllion transgenic mice alone are produced each year for a $200 million profit (Held in Mitchell and Thurtle, 2004: 271).  It is therefore crucial that we continue to engage with biotechnologically produced or modified life forms legally, politically, ethically, philosophically, sociologically and artistically, so that economic performance could be turned into life performance, and the anomal object could reclaim, if only temporarily, its life as a subject.

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