Eduardo Kac's Gfp Bunny Incites Debate About Ethics Of Transgenic Art
GFP BUNNY, a live genetically engineered bunny which glows in the dark,
was created earlier this year by French scientist Louis-Marie Houdebine
and others at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in France for
artist Eduardo Kac. However after French animal rights activists and some
scientists expressed concerns about the work, The Bunny, whose name
is Alba, was not, as originally intended, released to the artist.
Kac intended to take the rabbit home, but according to the BOSTON
GLOBE, concerns included that there is no way to know, whether the
animal is suffering, or what effect the bunny would have on the ecosystem
if she were to escape and reproduce.
"As a transgenic artist, I am not interested in the creation of genetic
objects, but on the invention of transgenic social subjects," Kac writes in
documentation of the work on his web site at http://www.ekac.org "In other
words, what is important is the completely integrated process of creating
the bunny, bringing her to society at large, and providing her with a loving,
caring, and nurturing environment in which she can grow safe and
Kac, who is an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at the School of
the Art Institute of Chicago, continues that "This integrated process is
important because it places genetic engineering in a social context in
which the relationship between the private and the public spheres are
negotiated. In other words, biotechnology, the private realm of family life,
and the social domain of public opinion are discussed in relation to one
But Computer programmer Ellen Ullman, author of CLOSE TO THE
MACHINE, who heard Kac discuss his ideas for a glow in the dark dog at
Ars Electronica, said, according to The San Francisco CHRONICLE that
she was initially fascinated by his ideas, "but I had this growing sense of
unease at the arrogance of his proposal. It is one thing for an artist to
experiment on a canvas, but it's entirely different to experiment on a living
The rabbit was created using a process called zygote microinjection.
According to ABC News, the scientists extracted a fluorescent protein
from a species of fluorescent jellyfish called Aequorea victoria. They
modified the gene to enhance its glowing properties twofold. This gene,
called EGFG (enhanced green fluorescent gene) was then inserted into a
fertilized rabbit egg cell that eventually grew into Alba.
As pointed out both in Kac's documentation and in the media reports, the
process isn't new. ABC News notes that in 1997 Tokyo scientists added
glowing jellyfish genes to mice. (as tagging elements to facilitate tracing
the gene) The mice, however, were created for research purposes to
provide animal models for studying biological processes and diseases.
Although researchers, including at Stanford and at Woods Hole, have
worked with similar processes, and Houdebine's group had already been
using rabbits in its research, the Globe reports that Houdinbine was
intrigued by Kac's desire to involve the public, and had not considered
whether an entire animal would glow in the dark. "Seen under a bath of
ultraviolet light, and looking through a filter, the rabbit's most striking
feature is its brightly glowing green eyes," the Globe writes.
But Lisa Lange, Director of Policy and Communications at People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals, points out, according to the ABC News
report, that the work takes advantage of an animal's life.
Indeed, GFP Bunny stands in sharp contrast to animal-centered artworks
such as artist Reiko Goto's NEZUMI (Rat) in which, rather than using the
rats with whom she had worked with at the Marin Wildlife Center, she
created a human-sized rat box into which humans were asked to crawl; or
her BUTTERFLY GARDEN at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco
which, planted with things that butterflies like, "provides a convenient and
well stocked rest stop for butterflies as they traverse the urban landscape
of the Bay Area."
"The broader question, of course, is how far should we take this new
power we're developing, to mold other creatures -- not to mention
ourselves -- to suit our plans or whims?" -- Ellen Ullman
In his documentation of the project, Eduardo Kac points out that because
"the domain of art is symbolic even when intervening directly in a given
context, art can contribute to reveal the cultural implications of the
revolution underway and offer different ways of thinking about and with
He continues that "Transgenic art is a mode of genetic inscription that is at
once inside and outside of the operational realm of molecular biology,
negotiating the terrain between science and culture. Transgenic art can
help science to recognize the role of relational and communicational
issues in the development of organisms. It can help culture by unmasking
the popular belief that DNA is the 'master molecule' through an emphasis
on the whole organism and the environment. (the context) At last,
transgenic art can contribute to the field of aesthetics by opening up the
new symbolic and pragmatic dimension of art as the literal creation of and
responsibility for life."
Regardless what you believe about his work, at least it gives people in the
public a chance to react to what is going on in the scientific community,"
ABC News quotes Laurie Rosenow, a fellow with Institute for Science, Law
and Technology in Illinois, as saying. "Sometimes it's important to bring
what people in white coats do into the public."
According to the Chronicle, technology culture observer Ellen Ullman
noted that "The broader question, of course, is how far should we take this
new power we're developing, to mold other creatures -- not to mention
ourselves -- to suit our plans or whims?"
The scientist who created Alba, Louis-Marie Houdebine, told the Globe
that he doesn't know when, or if, Alba will be allowed to join Kac, but
Houdebine observed that she is healthy and has a "particularly mellow and
EDUARDO KAC'S WEB SITE -- http://www.ekac.org
The site includes Eduardo Kac's extensive paper: GFP BUNNY as well as
information about "Art, Science and Free Speech" a symposium about the
issues raised by GFP BUNNY, held on September 18, 2000 at the
Chicago-Kent College of Law.
"Cross hare: hop and glow;
Mutant bunny at heart of controversy over DNA tampering"
THE BOSTON GLOBE --
September 17, 2000
"Artist's Glowing, Live Rabbit Creation Causes Fuss"
ABCNEWS.com -- http://www.abcnews.com
September 20, 2000
"Artist Proposes Using Jellyfish Genes to Create Glow-in-the-Dark Dogs"
San Francisco Chronicle -- http://www.sfgate.com
October 18, 1999
REIKO GOTO -- http://slaggarden.cfa.cmu.edu/people/reiko_project.html
PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals --
Currently at Exit Art in NYC, the exhibition PARADISE NOW: PICTURING
THE GENETIC REVOLUTION, (detailed in the Events section of this issue
of Current) features the work of 39 artists who address genetic
engineering issues in installation and mixed-media works, interactive and
on-line projects, photographs, painting and sculpture. PARADISE NOW --
which includes Eduardo Kac's GENESIS - - is documented at
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