Chicago Tribune, Section 7, May 10, 2002, p. 21.
NEW KAC SHOW TAKES A LOOK AT ETHICS, RABBIT
By Lisa Stein
Special to the Tribune
Two years ago Chicago-based artist Eduardo Kac held close to him an albino rabbit that, thanks to genetic modification, radiated green when placed under a blue light. A photograph of the encounter, which took place in a French research institute, shows Kac beaming with paternal pride. He named her Alba, or dawn, and called her the first example of transgenic art, and this rabbit is the focus of his new show at Julia Friedman Gallery.
The experience was so powerful for Kac, if not for the bunny, that he has waged a high-profile campaign to bring her to what he says is her rightful home in Chicago.
Kac had planned for Alba a star appearance in a June 2000 digital art exhibition in Avignon, France, where he would live with her for a while in an environment modeled after his own Oak Park living room. The point, he said, was to start a dialogue about the moral and social implications of genetic engineering. But the day before the opening, the director at the National Institute of Agronomic Research (where the rabbit was born) decided not to release Alba, and Kacs protest began, garnering international media coverage and prompting widespread speculation on how far genetic research would go. Kac identified Albas creation and the publics response to it as an artwork called GFP Bunny, which is well documented on his Web site (www.ekac.org).
Kacs latest show is about his quest to recover Alba. Included are six prints he posted in Paris in December 2000 that were part of what he calls public interventions to raise awareness of Albas plight. (She remains in a cage at the Institute). They depict Kac holding Alba in the Institute with various words in French -- translated as family, religion, ethics, science, printed above the image.
Kac also crafted a series of photographs of people reading newspaper articles about GFP Bunny in various settings. One shot depicts a bikini-clad woman on Ipanema beach reading a copy of a Brazilian newspaper, another a woman in a French apartment studying an article in Le Monde.
What Im doing is reclaiming my own narrative through a carefully constructed process, explains Kac, an associate professor of art and technology at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). They have the quality of casual snapshots, but even though they look objective they are the result of a highly subjective process. Its poetic in that sense.
In addition, Kac made a half-dozen drawings consisting of various cartoon characters, short quotations from French literary works and real and faux scientific equations. Pointing to one small molecular diagram, Kac chuckled, saying, I love this one -- I substituted the real names of the elements with made-up ones such as oh no, oy and nah. Pictures such as this one, Kac argues, are meant to lead viewers to ponder the increasingly blurry boundaries between humans and non-humans.
How did Kac, trained as an artist in Rio de Janeiro and at SAIC, arrive at this junction of science and spectacle, and come to present works that involve a re-hashing of a highly manipulated event? I think at a level of pure imagination, he says, I dont censor myself or say to myself, This isnt possible. Once I arrive at the poetics of what it is I would like to create, all these practical details follow.