IN VIVO - IN VITRO
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) | Eduardo Kac | Stelarc | Joe Davis | Karl Sims | Eva Sutton | Daniel Lee | Susan Alexjander | Polona Tratnik | IN VIVO - IN VITRO
GENESIS (Ars Electronica 1999)
By EDUARDO KAC
Installation (not interactive version)
Genesis is a transgenic artwork that explores the intricate relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the Internet. The key element of the work is an "artist's gene", a synthetic gene that was created by Kac by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed by the artist for this work. The sentence reads: "Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." It was chosen for what it implies about the dubious notion--divinely sanctioned--of humanity's supremacy over nature. Morse code was chosen because, as the first example of the use of radiotelegraphy, it represents the dawn of the information age--the genesis of global communication. The Genesis gene was incorporated into bacteria, which were shown in the gallery. Participants on the Web could turn on an ultraviolet light in the gallery, causing real, biological mutations in the bacteria. This changed the biblical sentence in the bacteria. After the show, the DNA of the bacteria was translated back into Morse code, and then back into English. The mutation that took place in the DNA had changed the original sentence from the Bible. The mutated sentence was posted on the Genesis web site. In the context of the work, the ability to change the sentence is a symbolic gesture: it means that we do not accept its meaning in the form we inherited it, and that new meanings emerge as we seek to change it.
Eduardo Kac is a pioneer of telecommunications art in the pre-Web '80s. His work deals with issues that range from the mythopoetics of online experience (Uirapuru) to the cultural impact of biotechnology (Genesis); from the changing condition of memory in the digital age (Time Capsule) to distributed collective agency (Teleporting an Unknown State); from the problematic notion of the "exotic" (Rara Avis) to the creation of life and evolution (GFP Bunny).
From his first experiments online in 1985 to his current convergence of the digital and the biological, Kac has always investigated the philosophical and political dimensions of communication processes. Equally concerned with the aesthetic and the social aspects of verbal and non-verbal interaction, in his work Kac examines linguistic systems, dialogic exchanges, and interspecies communication. Kac's pieces, which often link virtual and physical spaces, propose alternative ways of understanding the role of communication phenomena in creating shared realities.
Eduardo Kac is Professor and Chair, Art and Technology Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.