Eduardo Kac, Genesis
Genesis (1999)
Eduardo Kac, Genesis (1999)
General view
Photo by Otto Saxinger, courtesy of Eduardo Kac

Eduardo Kac, Genesis
Genesis (1999)
Genesis by Eduardo Kac uses the conversion method illustrated here: the sentence of the Bible is converted to morse code, which then is converted into DNA code. The four basic proteins of DNA: T (thymine), C (cytosine), A (adenine), G (guanine)
Courtesy of the artist
Eduardo Kac
Born in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1962
Lives and works in Chicago (IL)

Genesis (1999) focuses on the creation of an “artist’s gene.” The Genesis DNA is a synthetic gene that was created by Kac by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed by the artist for this work. (1) The gene was then incorporated into an E. coli. bacterium. Using the Internet (and a computer station in the gallery), visitors can switch on an ultraviolet light that triggers mutations in the bacterium. Little by little, the quote from the Bible is also mutated.

Since the early 1980s, Eduardo Kac has delved into many artistic genres and practices, including performance, poetry and telecommunications art (telephone, fax, television, telematics). During the 1990s, he undertook a series of art projects that he dubbed “transgenic.” This term, adopted by Kac, designates an art form whose subject, object and methods draw on genetic engineering and whose goal is to create unique living hybrids. (2) The prefix “trans” denotes the exchange or transformation of genetic material, its transfer from one code to another and from one reality to another. Genesis demonstrates what other works concede only rarely, if at all – that they act as “shifters,” (3)   transferring between reality, technology and language (the symbolic). And it is for this reason that the use of the biblical verse is so determining; it is programmable in both the literal and figurative sense of the word and allows for a transfer from linguistic to genetic code to create a living being.

Kac was in the news in recent years with his project GFP Bunny (2000). In a laboratory in France, with the help of scientists, he created a phosphorescent green rabbit, named Alba by Kac, his wife and daughter. GFP or green fluorescent protein was expressed in the genetic code of an albino rabbit, which gave it the property of becoming fluorescent under a blue or ultraviolet light, much like certain jellyfish found in the Pacific Ocean that produce the GFP protein.

But how, exactly, do this project and Genesis differ from the genetic manipulations of scientists and industrialists who patent genetically modified seeds? Firstly, by asking this very question. These works force us to examine the ethical, political, cultural and social issues currently facing the world, as Kac has done extensively in his writings. The art practised by Kac is for him dialogic: it is based on a dialogue among many professionals across a range of disciplines (science, art, philosophy, social science, law) as well as with the general public on the cultural consequences of genetic manipulation. The creation of modified life forms brings with it a responsibility for the creature thus brought into existence. The dialogical rule requires both a social and cultural dialogic space and the recognition of otherness and intersubjectivity as the foundation of the very concept of subjectivity. Kac presents radical intersubjectivity experiments. Genesis, writes Kac, “is a transgenic artwork that explores the intricate relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the Internet.” (4) Above all, it is a work that forces us to examine the creative and destructive power of humans – a power we inherited along with words and numbers.   

(1) A description can be found in Eduardo Kac, Telepresence & Bio Art: Networking Humans, Rabbits and Robots (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005): pp. 250-51.
(2) Ibid., p. 236-248.
(3) Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, trans. by Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983): p. 6.
(4) Eduardo Kac, Telepresence & Bio Art: Networking Humans, Rabbits and Robots, op. cit., p. 249.
Work on display

Genesis (1999)

Transgenic work with artist-created bacteria, ultraviolet light, Internet line, video
Collection of the artist
Edition of 2


Eduardo Kac studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago (IL), where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. A 1980s pioneer in pre-Internet telecommunications art and the creator of numerous performances, he became known in the early 1990s for his work in telepresence art and bio-telematics. He went on to introduce “transgenic art,” which uses genetic engineering to modify living organisms for the purposes of creating art. He is a member of the editorial board of Leonardo, Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, an MIT publication. His work has been exhibited widely in the U.S., Europe, South America, and Asia at venues that include the Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery (New York), Maison européenne de la photographie (Paris), OK Contemporary Art Center (Linz, Austria), InterCommunication Center (Tokyo), Julia Friedman Gallery (Chicago), Museum of Modern Art (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the ARCO art fair (Madrid), Yokohama Triennale (Japan), and the Biennale of Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Gwangju (South Korea). The works of Kac are also part of the permanent collections of a number of museums. Kac has received numerous fellowships and awards for his work, including recognition from Creative Capital (New York), ArtsLink (New York), and the Greenwall Foundation (New York). He has won the Leonardo Award for Excellence (San Francisco), Inter Communication Center Biennale Award (Tokyo), ARCO/BEEP Acquisition Award (Madrid), and a price form the Ministère de la culture in France.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Daniel Langlois Foundation