Entwining Languages:

Blurring the Line Between Art and Science with Eduardo Kac

Art and science are two concepts that are generally considered to be binary-terms in opposition to one another. Yet we are interested in creating hybrids between these two, exploring relationships in which art and science are fused together. 

                                   Andrew Watkins, 2012

There has long been a certain disparity between art and science; the two concepts are, in their own right, respective social languages. However, when these languages are entwined, a new hybrid entity is produced/formed, which blurs the line between the two. Recently, artists have sought to fuse these two social languages, in order to comment on the debate sparked by the ethical issues related to bioengineering. Eduardo Kac is one contemporary artist who investigates such issues and merges these two languages throughout his practice. Kac utilises, with proficiency, the world of science to convey his views on the ethics and restrictions of genetic engineering. Through the creation of unique perspectives on these issues and the use of science and technologies as mediums, Kac’s practice beautifully illustrates how fundamental it is for contemporary visual art to fuse such distinct social languages. 

In the construction of what has become labelled ‘transgenic art’, Eduardo Kac conveys his views on genetic engineering. In his piece entitled GFP Bunny (2000), Kac suggests scientific researchers have no regard for the animals they experiment with (Art/Sci Center, 2010). Ironically, in order to achieve this, Kac commissioned a French laboratory to genetically modify a live rabbit with a natural fluorescent protein found in jellyfish, which causes the rabbit to glow green when shrouded in the correct light (Genome News Network, 2002). Clearly, Kac aimed to provoke debate on whether or not the scientific imaginations of today have gone too far. While executed chiefly in the science laboratory, as Patrick Phillips points out, the GFP Bunny is not a ‘comfortable implant into either the realm of art or science’ (Phillips, 2006/07). Phillips emphasises how Kac’s artwork has created a hybrid form that cannot be defined simply as either art or science. Vanessa Guignery explains that hybridity ‘has its origins in biology and botany, where it designates a crossing between two species by cross-pollination that gives birth to a third “hybrid” species’ (Guignery, 2011). If Phillips’ argument is applied to Guignery’s definition, then Kac has undoubtedly created a ‘hybrid art form’ or ‘paradox’, wherein the two distinct disciplines have become one. Furthermore, as this paradox has succeeded in provoking a much-needed debate on the concerns revolving around bioengineering, it is clear that fusing the two languages is essential in the visual arts, if they seek to contribute to the larger social/ethical debates of their time. As evident in the art practice of Eduardo Kac, the entwining of art and science gives an artist the much needed ability to not only express their own views on scientific concerns, but also to promote discussions within society on these issues. Since it is the role of an artist to provide such platforms for discussion, it is fundamental that this form of hybridity has its place within the visual arts.

In order for Kac to convey his views on the ethical issues surrounding bioengineering, he had to use current technological tools that integrate the social languages of art and science. Kac’s artwork entitled The Eighth Day (2001) comprises of a self-contained artificial ecological system which houses fluorescent plants, amoeba, mice and fish that, like the GFP bunny, glow green when in the correct light (Kac, BIO ART). Since this artwork depends heavily on scientific tools, it would not have been feasible if not for the utilisation of the developments in technologies. Moreover, given that the success of his work relies on the ability to create living transgenic life forms, the plants, amoeba, fish and mice would not have impacted in the same way if not genetically engineered (Kac, BIO ART). Furthermore, Kac’s artwork demonstrates how fundamental it is for contemporary visual art to entwine these two social languages. If Kac had not utilised the world of science in his art practice, then he would not have been able to convey his views on bioengineering to the same extent or with the same force. Moreover, Kac’s work conveys a unique perspective on today’s scientific advancements in a way that could not have been achieved if it had emerged from the artist’s studio alone. 

The entwining of art and other fields is a strong feature of contemporary art. While this gives artists a hugely expanded palette of material and ideas, it also offers art the capacity to connect with broader social concerns. While it is known that scientific advancements bring about countless benefits for society, it is inevitable that they will also trigger many concerns and disputes. It is the role of an artist to be a commentator on these discrepancies and to provide not only their own opinions, but an environment where discussions about these complex issues are encouraged. Contemporary artist Eduardo Kac, certainly succeeds in creating environments where the current issues regarding bioengineering can be both argued and deliberated. Additionally, through the creation of unique perspectives on these issues and the exploitation of advancements in mediums and technologies, Kac has beautifully demonstrated how essential entwining such distinct social languages is to the contemporary visual arts. 

Eduardo Kac, GFP Bunny, 2000. Transgenic Artwork. Courtesy Black Box Gallery, Copenhagen.

Eduardo Kac, Alba, the fluorescent rabbit. 2000. Courtesy Black Box Gallery, Copenhagen.

Kac utilises the world of science to convey his views on the ethics of genetic engineering. 

 

notes: 

References
GFP Bunny, Art/Sci Center, Video, Vimeo, 2010.
Genome News Network, Transgenic bunny by Eduardo Kac, 29 March 2002. Retrieved 16 May 2013, from Genome News Network, http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/03_02/bunny_art.shtml
Guignery, V., ‘Introduction: Hybridity, Why it still matters’, in Hybridity: Forms and Figures in Literature and the Visual Arts. Vanessa Guignery, Catherine Pesso-Miquel and François Specq (eds), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2011.
Haraway, D., ‘Speculative Fabulations for Technoculture’s Generations: Taking Care of Unexpected Country’, (tender) creature exhibition catalogue, Artium, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, 2007.
Kac, E., BIO ART, n.d. Retrieved from KAC http://www.ekac.org/transgenicindex.html
Kac, E., GFP Bunny, 2000. Retrieved 29 April 2013, from KAC http://www.ekac.org/gfpbunny.html
Phillips, P., ‘Pet Project: A Critical Analysis of Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny’, Ontario College of Art & Design, 2006/07.