Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Hybrids in Art. Theoretical Perspectives on Art in the Age of Genetics: The transgenic art of Eduardo Kac
Nora Sørensen Vaage
2nd Author
3rd Author
MA Art History
Number of Pages
University of Bergen
Thesis Supervisor
Professor Siri Meyer
Supervisor e-mail
Siri.Meyer AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
English (Norwegian Abstract)
Department / Discipline
Art History
Languages Familiar to Author
English, Norwegian
URL where full thesis can be found
bio art, transgenic art, hybridity, GFP, Eduardo Kac, bioethics, the emancipated spectator
Abstract: 200-500 words
This thesis explores the "transgenic art" of artist Eduardo Kac. Transgenic art is a strand of bio art, and utilizes biotechnology in order to create new species, either by transferring genetic material from one existing species to another, or by adding synthetic genes to an organism. The art form has a social focus, and is conceptual in nature, presenting some of the ethical issues characteristic of our current times. My thesis is focused primarily on three of Kac's transgenic artworks. In my description of the artworks, I look into the process of creating them, which involves biotechnology and collaboration with scientists. Genesis (1999) translated a compressed sentence from the Biblical Genesis into a DNA code, which was incorporated into fluorescent blue bacteria. Natural History of the Enigma (2003/08) involves a hybrid petunia, which carries one of Kac's genes in its vascular system. In GFP Bunny (2000), a green, fluorescent rabbit was supposed to be sent from the laboratory in which it was created to Kac's home in Chicago. The bunny never made it out of the lab. The artwork comprises the reactions of the audience, some of which were written in the Alba Guestbook, a database on Kac's website. I examine the Guestbook as a case study, concluding that very few of the spectators take a position on both the ethical, social and biotechnological implications of the artwork. My approach is multiperspectival, employing a number of different theories to define some of the characteristics of transgenic art. I juxtapose art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud’s recently presented figure of the ‘radicant’ to philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s ‘rhizome’. Although the two concepts are related, I find that they shine light on different elements of Kac’s transgenic art project. I also apply Deleuze’s ‘plane of immanence’ to art, and relate to Mieke Bal’s idea of ‘travelling concepts’. My starting point is the idea that art grows out of and reflects its own time and its own society. Consequently, I examine how transgenic art reflects our current societal issues, such as the proper use of biotechnology, informatics and genetics. Based on Jacques Rancière’s description of the emancipated spectator, I consider the role of the spectator in relation to the work of art. I examine the ethical views that are the basis for the public’s reactions, with the assumption that the spectators will always interpret the artwork based on their existing worldview. My conclusion is that people react more strongly to something that is presented as “art”, than they would have if a similar case arose in science or another setting where its “purpose” is more clearly defined. I ask: what is it about art that rouses this extra attention?