Neofiles, Vol.1 Num.12, February 2005

Transgenic Bunny Rabbit of the Universal Mind
Edited By R.U. Sirius

Start the universe with a few rules. Watch it iterate and accumulate complexity over billions of years. Add in somenanotechnology, robotics, and super-chemistry. Now, take the transgenic bunny rabbit and put it in Professor Schrödinger’s box. Wait several decades … stirring frequently. If things work out, you will have a perfectly divine singularity … to serve up to family and guests. If not, you will have an entertaining read, to be savored until we issue again.

Is A Trans Bunny Art?

Eduardo Kac In Conversation with R.U. Sirius

In 1999, Eduardo Kac, an internationally recognized artist who was best known for his interactive net installations, commissioned a French biotech lab to create a ìtransgenic bunny.î 
Kac and friendÖ 
The scientists injected the egg of an albino rabbit with the green fluorescent protein of a Pacific jellyfish. In 2000, Alba, the green fluorescent rabbit, was born in Jouy-en-Josas, France. It was not his first foray into transgenic art but it was definitely his most famously controversial. 

In case youíre not getting it, let me emphasize this: the artist Eduardo Kac created a living creature, a biologically-altered bunny rabbit, as an element of an art project. For Kac however, the work didnít end after he had the bioluminescent creature available to display. For Kac, the project includes the discourse the bunny provokes, the events that are triggered, and his feelings of relationship toward the bunny as a living thing. 

In the early '90s, Kacís visionary combination of robotics and networking explored the fluidity of the post-digital world. Kacís work has been exhibited internationally at venues such as Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York; OK Contemporary Art Center, Linz, Austria; InterCommunication Center (ICC), Tokyo; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, among others. 
Öwho glows in the dark. 
His work has also been featured both in contemporary art publications (Flash Art, ARTFORUM International, ARTnews,) and in the mass media (ABC, BBC, PBS, Le Monde, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times). The recipient of many awards, Kac lectures and publishes worldwide. 

Kac's writings on art, which have appeared in several books and periodicals in many countries, have been collected in two volumes: Telepresence and Bio Art: Networking Humans, Rabbits and Robots and Luz & Letra. Books about Kac's work include: The Eighth Day: The Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac, Sheilah Britton and Dan Collins, eds.

I interviewed him via email. 

NEOFILES: You've become widely known for creating a bioluminescent bunny rabbit named Alba, but you've been doing various technologically-oriented artworks for some time. Is there an overall project that fits the glowing bunny together with, say, telepresence experiments etc. 

EDUARDO KAC: The key issue I have been addressing in my work for about 20 years is communication. My work investigates the question of communication not as the transmission of information from one point to another, but as a vital force. My work explores communication as a shared space in which meaning can be negotiated. In my work I create social spheres in which dialogical interaction can emerge. Biological processes are important in art because they are at the crossroads of profound social transformations, underway through developments in biotechnology. These developments have cultural consequences. Art is uniquely positioned to investigate the social and cultural meanings of biotechnology beyond simplistic affirmations of determinism.

NF: Most observers, particularly those outside the history of art, would assume that the intention of the Alba work is basically to shock, and to gain publicity from that. This is how people also look at "Piss Christ", Karen Finley's performances, Damien Hirst's pieces, ad infinitum. While that may not be the entire story, isn't it actually a strong element? Did the knowledge that many people would react to this in horror excite you?

EK My intention was never to shock. That would be too shallow and, frankly, unexciting to me as an artist. I'm interested in creating works that generate opportunity for new aesthetic and cultural discoveries. Predictable work is not interesting, and any work in which the exact outcome can be predicted (shock or otherwise) falls in this category. In any case, the question remains as to why, in given cultures, certain works cause shock within certain circles. It is certainly more a question of reception than intention.

NF: I see Alba as a gesture, in a tradition of gestures that go back at least to Duchamp's latrine. The gesture hopefully resonates out into an audience and creates meaning and dialogue, etc. One problem people have with gestures is - once they accept them as art - how do they decide what gestures qualify as art and what gestures are merely cheap tricks? A basketball in a glass case?

EK Duchamp's urinal was a ready-made, an existing object that the artist displaced to the context of art. This is not my case at all. Alba is not an object; she is a subject. 
Duchampís latrine. 
An invented subject. As Emmanuel Levinas wrote: "Difference which is non-indifference, is responsibility." Her being-in-the-world calls for a relationship. The work is more than a gesture: it demands a relationship. That which we may not recognize as art, may have to be first cognized as art. The question "what gestures qualify as art and what gestures are merely cheap tricks" is exactly the same as "what paintings qualify as art and what paintings are merely cheap pictures". There's no difference. Art is not an intrinsic property of any material. Marble is not art, but an artist may use it to make art. An artwork is an entity that resonates with the sensible and cognitive universe of the viewer or participant. No doubt, it is a subjective experience. There are no universal standards.

NF: Tell us a bit, if you will, about the dialogic interactions that have resulted from Alba. What have been some of the most interesting and surprising discussions? What has effected you the most?

EK The discussion has been extremely broad, from school children to scholars and everyone in between. There have been great discussions, with probing questions, such as the one conducted online with questions posted to the Genolog website, July-September 2000. There were many debates, but two that stand out in my mind were the one that followed my lecture at the University of California, in Berkeley, and the one live on French television with a priest, a scientist, and myself (broadcast on December 11, 2000). Some of the postings to the Alba Guestbook have been inspired, be they tormented, perverse, or poetic. I have been affected by all of it. We never cross the same river twice.

NF: The creation of transgenic animals usually takes place in the realm of science and/or business. When you contextualize it as art, does something new happen to the entire field? Does any new meaning attach itself to the scientific and business worlds?

Karen Finley performing. 
I can't really say if any new meaning attaches itself to the scientific and business worlds. Perhaps scientists and entrepreneurs should voice their opinions. My main concern is with art. No single medium or technique can be said to be the exclusive property of a single sector of society. If this were the case, only the military would be using computers. The world has changed dramatically in fifty years, since computers came about. Infants use computers today. The world of science is unthinkable in the twenty-first century without the use of image-making techniques, formerly the exclusive domain of art. It goes both ways.

NF: Tell us about the relationship then with Alba? Do you relate to her differently that you would to another pet? Do people act differently around her?

EK: In 2000 the lab censored my work. At the last minute they decided to keep her caged. They also interrupted dialogue. Since then I have been engaged in a long-tem campaign to obtain her release. It was said once that she is dead, but no evidence was offered, so most likely she is alive. Perhaps she is like Schrödingerís cat. The box [the lab] is closed and we do not know if the cat [bunny] is dead or alive. Since we do not know, the cat [bunny] is both dead and alive, in a quantum superposition of states.

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