ART TAKES A GENETIC ENGINEERING LEAP
GLOW-IN-THE DARK RABBIT LIGHTS UP DEBATE
By Jeremy Manier
Tribune Staff Writer
September 19, 2000
Many artists these days try to stretch the borders of legitimate creativity,
but Oak Park artist Eduardo Kac may be the first to see artistic
possibilities in a genetically engineered rabbit that glows in the dark.
Kac's unorthodox use of biology in the service of art was the subject of
a symposium Monday at Chicago-Kent College of Law, titled "Art,
Science and Free Speech: The Work of Eduardo Kac."
The glowing bunny, Kac said, is part of a "transgenic art" project that he
hopes will start a dialogue on the promise and hazards of modern
technology. Kac, an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute,
said French researchers created the rabbit, named Alba, last February,
and he hopes to bring it to Oak Park soon.
"My work is a radical departure," Kac said, "but it feeds on the 20th
Century tradition of drawing from scientific principles that affect
The rabbit appears to have been made with established genetic
engineering techniques, said symposium panelist Stuart Newman, a
professor of cell biology at New York Medical College.
Kac said he planned the project with scientists at the National Institute
of Agronomic Research in France, who inserted a gene that produces
green fluorescent protein--or GFP--into the embryo that eventually
became Alba the rabbit. The same protein is found naturally in
The French researchers could not be reached for comment Monday.
Participants in the symposium included Newman, who opposes such
uses of genetic engineering technology, and Christiane Paul, a curator of
new media arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,
who said Kac's work could play a positive role by provoking questions
about how transgenic techniques alter ideas about what constitutes a
living thing's identity.
"The most important effect is to take genetic engineering out into the
public," Paul said.
But art based on genetic engineering could set a dangerous precedent
regarding what kind of genetic research is acceptable, Newman said. "I
think it's absolutely imperative that we draw a line and not do this on
people," Newman said.
The discussion itself was part of what Kac envisions as his larger
artwork, which he calls "GFP Bunny." The other major element of the
art, he said, would be to bring Alba to the Oak Park home where Kac
lives with his wife and daughter, to explore in a family setting the
"emotional and cognitive aspects of transgenic beings."
"I define this as a complex social event," Kac said.
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