Hybrids in Art. Theoretical perspectives on art in the age of genetics :The Transgenic art of Eduardo Kac
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This thesis explores the art form of "transgenic art", a term coined by artist Eduardo Kac at the turn of the millennium. Transgenic art is a strand of bio art specifically seeking to cross (often extremely different) species by means of genetic manipulation, or to transfer synthetic genes to an organism, in both cases creating new, unique living beings. The art form has a social focus, and is conceptual in nature, presenting some of the ethical issues characteristic of our current times. My thesis is focused primarily on three of Kac's transgenic artworks. In my description of the artworks, I look into the process of creating them, which involves biotechnology and collaboration with scientists. Genesis" translated a compressed sentence out of the Biblical Genesis into a DNA code, which was spliced into a strain of fluorescent bacteria. Natural History of the Enigma" involves a hybrid petunia, which carries one of Kac's genes in its veins. In GFP Bunny", a green, fluorescent rabbit was supposed to be sent from the laboratory in which it was created to Kac's home in Chicago. The bunny never made it out of the lab. The artwork comprises the reactions of the audience, some of which were written out in the Alba Guestbook, a database on Kac's website. I explore the Guestbook as a case study, and consider the role of the spectator in relation to transgenic art, drawing on Jacques Rancière's idea of the "emancipated" spectator. My conclusion is that people react more strongly to something that is presented as art", than they would have if a similar case arose in science or another setting where its purpose" is clearer. I ask: what is it about art that rouses this extra attention? And where, consequently, is this kind of art positioned in society? My approach is multiperspectival, employing a number of different theories to help me define some of the characteristics of transgenic art. Gilles Deleuze and Mieke Bal are the figures that influenced the theoretical shape of the thesis the most. I relate to the idea that art grows out of and reflects the time and society in which it is created. Consequently, I examine how transgenic art reflects our current society, with its contemporary issues of how informatics and genetics are to be utilized.