Artist Splices Jellyfish With Rabbit To Make Art
Alba Is World's First Fluorescent Bunny
OTTAWA, Updated 4:48 p.m. EDT September 3, 2000 -- Sure, it's a
fluorescent green rabbit. But is it art?
That's the question Chicago artist Eduardo Kac has confronted ever since
he and a team of French scientists created Alba, an albino rabbit with a
green fluorescence gene plucked from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria.
Born in April, Alba glows fluorescent
green when illuminated with a blue light.
She will come into the limelight -- so to
speak -- on Sept. 18, when she appears
with Kac at a Chicago symposium entitled
Art, Science and Free Speech: The Work
of Eduardo Kac.
Alba was created by Louis-Marie
Houdebine, research director of the
Institut National de la Recherche
Agronomique in France, using a process
called zygote micro-injection.
In this process, the gene responsible for a
fluorescent green glow was cut out of a
jellyfish cell and injected into the fertilized
rabbit egg cell that would eventually grow
As the egg cell divided and replicated, the "green gene" replicated along
with it, thereby making its way into every cell in Alba's furry body.
The radiant rabbit now lives with Kac, his wife Ruth and daughter Miriam in their Chicago home.
Alba is the first specimen of what Kac calls transgenic art -- "a new art form based on the use of
genetic engineering to transfer natural or synthetic genes to an organism, to create unique living
Fluorescence genes have been used in scientific research since 1995, when scientists at Stanford
University began splicing such genes into the tumour cells of experimental animals.
The gene causes the tumour to emit a glow which increases as the tumour grows and decreases as the
tumour shrinks, allowing researchers to study the effectiveness of drug treatments.
However, Kac is the first to use a fluorescence gene for artistic purposes.
Genetic manipulation is on the cutting edge of the art world, as artists see the potential of creating
living works of the imagination.
Dale Hoyt, a San Francisco videographer who founded the Coalition of Artists and Life Forms
(CALF), once dreamed of creating biogenetic artworks that would make Alba look about as
sophisticated as a child's crayon drawing.
"I had high hopes and romantic ideas of artists creating fantastical, absurd animals, designing new
animals," he said. But the reality of genetic engineering, and the potential harm and suffering it could
cause, has made him rethink his grand schemes.
"I don't want any animal to suffer at the ego of an artist," he said, "even if it's me."
Hoyt qualifies Kac's transgenic rabbit project as "fascinating," but questions whether it qualifies as
art, or merely as animal husbandry.
As to that other classic question, "What is the artist trying to tell us?" Hoyt reflects:
"I would say it's meant to challenge people about what the relation is between man and animal, which,
in light of this biotechnological age we're entering, I think is going to be completely re-invented."
Check out the Eduardo Kac Web site.
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