Virilio, Paul (with Sylvere Lotringer). Crepuscular Dawn (New York: Semiotext(e), 2002), pp. 125-127.

Transgenic art

LOTRINGER: For a few years now biological art has been developing a culture of art. I use "culture" here in the biological sense, like the culture of bac-teria. You know Eduardo Kac, the Brazilian artist

VIRILIO: The transgenic rabbit…

Yes, the creator of Alba, the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Bunny Before that Kac created a fluorescent dog whose social inte-gration (it was part of the project) raised a few hairy ethical ques-tions. His most recent creation was "The Eighth Day," which claims, I guess, to improve on the Seventh. It brought together, under the aegis of art, a biological robot connected to the internet, a few mice and a GFP fish, but also plants and GFP amoeba--a whole diminutive universe based on the direct manipulation of living organisms. Biological art, though, often does not work on the living being itself but on the mechanisms ot it, and some of these projects appear to be much closer to science than to art. Take Michael Punt, one of these sorcerer-apprentices. He has created “artistic entities that are half-alive" by transmitting electric impulses from a fish neuron onto a computer program ("Fish and Chips'). Another "apprentist" Paul Perry, combined a white blood cell from his own blood with a cancerous mouse cell in order to obtain what he calls the “Hybridome, a new immortal cell” [43]. These experiments have nothing to do with what we usually call "art," although maybe it doesn't make much sense to maintain this kind of distinction -- art at this point -- being simply what is exhibited as art. In any case, transgenic art is now being added to the other arts and seems poised to become an "augmented" art, the way reality is being "augmented" by cybernetic procedures.

No, that's what people think, but really transgenic art is renewing the other arts from the inside. Because its focus is the map of the human genome. And we can't treat genetic science as just another science in parallel with the others. It is inside all the other sciences. It is a way to focus science on its source -- the living organism and the knowledge of it. In this sense, it is a snake swallowing its tail. Science is becoming myth again. Instead of enhancing reason, it is welcoming unreason and magic, a factory for anything at all: the demiurgic, centaurs... Alchemists helped originate science, and then we moved beyond alchemy...

By means of science..

Experimental science is the opposite of storytelling, chimera and myths. The rational position of science had freed itself little by little from alchemy and magic. But now knowledge has been mortally wounded. Instead of opposing the alchemist, the scientist is becoming an alchemist again. It is the idolatry of calculation, the idolatry of the genetic bomb, that has brought us back to alchemy. So, to say that the transgenic art is an art like the others -- it's not, because it exterminates the source of the other arts. The living organism is irreplaceable. The living organism is not of the same nature as what produces it. Right now the scientist is saying: “Yes, but the living organism has been surpassed." So, I say: "AIright, then we are encroaching on the demiurgic, we are coming back to the great myths." Science is reinventing myths. And the delirium starts over.

But maybe it never stopped doing that. The invention of the objectivity of science itself was a myth.

What I'm trying to say is that today calculation is leading us back to the chimera and the myth of the super-human. Not Nietzsche's super-man, but the super-man of teratology.


43 - On "biological art," see the special issue of Art Press, February 2002, particularly Dominique Lestel's article, "The Artistic Manipulation of the Living."

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