Nov 14, 2008

Genes and Art

Artists Adam Zaretsky and Eduardo Kac partake in genetic modification to create new organisms—organisms that are then framed as art. Both see the creation of these organisms as a form of parentage: Kac, for example, claims the fluorescent bunny Alba as part of his family.

Should genes be used as an artistic medium? What responsibility do artists and scientists have towards the new organisms that they create through genetic modification?


  1. On Nov 20, the first respondent on our Thursday evening Idea-Exchange tours: Dr. Jennifer Welchman (University of Alberta Associate Professor in Philosophy and
    Medical ethics) noted that Eduardo Kac did not actually commission a genetically-modified Rabbit (“Alba”). Rather he gained permission to make use of Alba, who had already been created with other similarly modified rabbits from a French lab. Thus Alba was not designed by the artist – he was a kind of found object.

    In this case, the Duchampian term is inadequate and doesn’t expose the ethical dimension involved in the use of a living organism. To be more precise, Alba should be classified as a found subject.

    Artists and scientists use living subjects in their work all the time. How they are treated, to what ends, the nature of consent (with human subjects) and the humanness of the procedures are just some of the issues involved. In recent decades scientific research has become bound to increasingly stringent protocols to prevent suffering and humiliation. The use of living subjects by artists implies exactly the same ethical responsibility as their scientific counterparts, and when their work becomes similarly intrusive – they should adhere to the same guidelines and standards.

    Marcus Miller

  2. In this case, Alba is inadequate and doesn’t expose the ethical dimension of a living organism. To be more precise the Duchampian use in the term involved, should be classified as a found subject.

    Living subjects use artists and scientists in their work all the time.


  3. why not? Look at scientology or space satellites or space ships? They all have an origin based on fiction and creativity. The first space satellite was designed based on Alistair McLain's science fiction novels.

    Hence artistic creation can lead to either discoveries and inventions or simply a medium of communication. No one can control what impact it has on people or how far someone decides to take it. iF this WAS a fear, our media should have been banned or controlled and that has not happened.

    It is the process of evolution. As the human race, we have evolved at a faster rate in the last 100 years than in the last million. This question being posed is a part of this evolutionary process. Let us not presume, by asking this question, that we can pretend to control.


  4. it is good that ART is engaging in the discussion. This is not an area of thought that should be dealt with without cognition.

  5. The end project (the post-genetically mutated being) exists within the bounds of legitimate existence due to the legitimate means by which it was brought into existence. If the artist is attempting to question the very legitimacy of its existence, then the artist may need to make use of alternative means. Thus way, the true questions surrounding its end existence will be asked through the awakening of the conscious as to its form of existence. Therefore, alternative means may be required for a reawakening of the conscious. Legitimate means may in fact deny the conscious the realization as to the form of existence that has been created.

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