Originally published in Wednesday Journal, January 31 2001, p. 34.

Modified monkey, captive bunny

Laura Stuart

If you're a regular EXPRESS! reader, recent national news reports about
ANDi, the rhesus monkey genetically modified with jellyfish DNA that glows
green in the dark, probably rang a bell. Last fall we wrote about Eduardo
Kac, [Oak Park's Mr. Green Genes, Oct. 11] and Alba, his genetically
engineered bunny. Alba even goes ANDi one better by actually looking green
when she's viewed under a blue light.
Kac, an assistant professor of art and technology at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago, told us he's spent much of his 20-year career as an
artist investigating "how our continuous cultural transformations are shaped
by science and technology." (To find out about Kac's other projects and
exhibits, check out his website, www.ekac.org.) The bunny project pushed Kac
into the public consciousness when he announced that Alba had been born last
February in Jouy-en-Josas, France.
"There's no scientific breakthrough, either in my work or by these
scientists," says Kac, referring to the ANDi project. "They created another
similar monkey in 1999. What's interesting is that the scientists are using
strategies similar to artists, releasing information to the public that's of
social interest."
The fact that genetic engineering is occurring is precisely the point of the
bunny project, and Kac's other "transgenic" art. "How can we know if this
will bring a cure for anyone? How can we evaluate what we read? Through my
work, I hope to develop a sense of empowerment. We become aware of how
urgent it is for us to develop an understanding, so we can engage in this
discourse," says Kac.
While public reaction to the monkey has been largely positive, [Monkey may
be giant step for man, Chicago Sun Times, Jan. 12], Kac took a lot of heat
for his bunny. In fact, he's just returned from Paris, where he's trying to
get Alba released from a laboratory, so she can come to live in Oak Park.
"The whole point was to see Alba in a relationship, in a social environment,
not as an object. Originally, Alba and I were going to live together in a
gallery for a week, but when the director of the Institute [where Alba was
born] heard about it, the project was censored. I've been trying since then
to get her out, but she's there, and the gates are locked," explains Kac.
In Paris, Kac appeared on radio and TV, gave lectures at the Sorbonne, and
met with French scientists and intellectuals to garner public support for
Alba's release. He also created posters of himself holding Alba, with a
variety of different headings--Art, Science, Religion, Family, Ethics,
Media--which he hung all over the city.
"I'm hoping the announcement of the monkey will help," says Kac. "People can
see that this technology is used widely and that creatures are born healthy,
with no behavioral changes. The right place for Alba is in my family's
We'll keep you posted.

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