Originally published in the Times of India, 27 September 2000 <http://www.timesofindia.com/270900/27edit3.htm>.

Rabbit Redux

Nearly 50 years ago, Lord Snow, the scientist-novelist lamented in his
`Two Cultures' speech, that in the 20th century, the worlds of science and
arts had evolved separately and grown apart as two irreconcilable
cultures. Most practitioners of one kind of culture were woefully ignorant
of even major developments and paradigms in the other culture. Perhaps,
in the new millennium, the imminent genetic engineering revolution will
transcend the divergent trend and possess the power to create a new
fusion. Some say man's landing on moon was a scientific breakthrough
which caused a ferment in the arts and popular culture. An incandescent
rabbit, named Alba, has hit the headlines as an example of `transgenic art'
emerging from a curious collaboration of the two cultures which C P
Snow wrote about. A Brazilian teacher of modern art in Chicago,
Eduardo Kac, and a genetic engineer in the French National Institute of
Agronomic Research, near Paris, Dr Louis-Marie Houdebine have
produced this ``bunny which glows in the dark'' when bathed in
ultra-violet light rays, and seen through a filter. The British ewe, Dolly,
led the way to cloning. But this time, the trick involved `marrying' the
gene causing the phosphorescent glow of the jellyfish and the DNA of
the living, breathing rabbit Alba. Artist Eduardo Kac says his decision
was deliberate -- ``to create a character at once `lovable' and `alien' that
society must learn to confront''. He asserts that ``Our new era needs a
new kind of art. It makes no sense to paint as the cave-man did in the
caves''. The last time a rabbit dominated discussion was when novelist
John Updike wrote his Rabbit series. He was praised for delineating
middle-class tensions and tragedies and achieving what Kierkegaard had
called ``mastered irony'' of dovetailing two legitimate but contradictory
sides of the same issue. The Brazilian artist wanted to experiment with a
domesticated dog as the first transgenic animal, but the French scientist
opted for the white bunny which glows in the dark. So far, the French
scientists have refused to part with Alba, while admitting that ``She's
healthy and is particularly mellow, possessing a sweet disposition''. Like
Napoleon, the scientist might well claim ``Able was I ere I saw Alba''
because the technology which made Alba glow is widely available. Artist
Kac says his aim is to show that even transgenic animals created in a
laboratory have an emotional and cognitive life.

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