Leonardo Reviews. Updated 1st January 2004. <http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/ldr.html>

The Eighth Day: The Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac

Edited by Sheilah Britton and Dan Collins
Institute for Studies in the Arts, Herberger College of Fine Arts,
Arizona State University
Distributed Art Publishers Inc. D.A.P.
ISBN 0-9724291-0-7
Paperback, 188 pp., illustrated

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher <mosher@svsu.edu>,
Saginaw Valley State University, University Center MI 48710 USA.

Artist Francisco Goya warned us that "the sleep of reason produces
monsters", while in the arctic Dr. Frankenstein lamented his
experimental transgressions that give life to dead meat. Eduardo
Kac's products of his own artful scientific processes warn us mutely
of the issues between human and animal that contemporary
technologies inflame.

"Rara Avis" was his1996 installation in which the viewer could see its
budgie-filled aviary through a video camera in the eyes of a
centrally-perched mechanical parrot. In "Time Capsule" (1997) at the
Casa de Rojas in Sao Palo, Kac was videotaped as he implanted an
identity-tracking chip into his ankle, machine-readable like the chip
on my packet of cigars to prevent me from walking out of Walgreen's
without paying for them. Kac recognized that precise recording of
identity could be used against a citizen--as it had been used to
exterminate his Jewish relatives in Poland sixty years ago, whose
images were displayed on the Casa de Rojas gallery walls. In a piece
called "The Book of Mutations", the artist translated lines from the
Book of Genesis, about human dominion over "every living thing that
moves upon the earth" into Morse Code, then overlaid that code with
DNA from a slime mold. Induced mutations in the mold's genes soon
resulted in code that degraded the scriptural quote. Texts and codes
were all engraved upon granite tablets, and the petri dish's spotty
cultures were reproduced as fine art giclée prints. Kac's most famous
creation or collaborator is Alba, a white "GFP Bunny" who deserves a
place in cultural history alongside Dolly the Sheep. Otherwise normal,
under certain wavelengths of light Alba glows an unearthly radium
green from a Green Flourescent Protein (GFP) gene inserted into
her cells before birth. That laws prevented her travel over
international borders with Kac became subject of another artwork.

These works are all discussed as predecessors to the topic of this
book, "The Eighth Day", Kac's 2001 installation at Arizona State
University that continued his exploration of GFP critters. Mice, fish,
bacteria and tobacco plants, whose genomes all included the
flourescent gene, were assembled in a terrarium and lit so they
would glow eerily. The bacteria also served as the "brain" of a
contraption called the Biobot, which raised or lowered upon its legs
depending on the bacteria's reaction to light. The slim, elegant
volume The Eighth Day provides an illustrated introduction to
Eduardo Kac's work, and lists URLs of online essays by Kac and
others for further study. The essays range from a game but
somewhat befuddled look by traditional art historian Edward
Lucie-Smith, to Arlindo Machado's "Towards a Transgenic Art" which
contextualizes Kac among some of his philosophical influences. With
New Orleans-based William A. Rawls, the two Arizona State
scientists Alan Rawls and Jeanne Wilson-Rawls instrumental in the
laboratory processes necessary to create "The Eighth Day" review
"Science in a Postmodern World". ASU's Dan Collins provides a
critique of the "Eighth Day" piece and its video-fed website. While I
personally prefer my dinnertime fish, fowl and foodstuffs to have only
the natural world's genetic diversity that evolution has given them,
Eduardo Kac's transgenic works makes us realize that biotechnology
has its proper place in one singular, studied, ironicized realm: the
world of art.

Updated 1st January 2004

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