Wet Work: Artists Appropriating the Tools and Techniques of Science
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A glow-in-the-dark rabbit. A human ear grown in a Petri dish. A set of wings to make pigs fly. These creations are not the work of scientists in a laboratory but the work of bioartists: a new breed of art makers whose practice takes the form of creating living organisms. These artists engage scientists and the public in controversial debates over the biotechnological techniques used to create chimeras, hybrids, and even spare body parts. Their bioart projects pose perplexing and complicated questions concerning the nature of life and the ethical implications of tampering with it.
Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny, an albino rabbit whose DNA was spliced with that of a Pacific Northwest jellyfish, and The Tissue, Culture & Art (TC&A) Project’s Extra Ear 1/4 Scale, are just a few examples of this emerging artistic genre. In a world where this year’s medical advances seem to come from last year’s science fiction, artist projects often challenge biotechnology’s claim that the manipulation of species boundaries through genetic engineering is for the greater good of humanity. Yet, despite the fact that bioartists articulate substantially different intentions and goals than their scientific counterparts, their techniques nevertheless transgress some of the same “unnatural” boundaries, thus blurring the ethical implications of their practice.