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The Eighth Day: The Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac

The Eighth Day: the Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac, 2003
The eighth day : the transgenic art of Eduardo Kac. — Edited by Sheilah Britton and Dan Collins. — Tempe : Institute for Studies in the Arts, The Katherine K. Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University, 2003. — 117 p. — ISBN 0972429107.

Since the 80s, Eduardo Kac, a Brazilian artist living in the United States, has been exploring the ethical issues raised by the merging of advanced technology and biogenetics. In 2000, Kac received financial support from the Daniel Langlois Foundation for the development of the second phase of the Genesis project.

This book accompanies the Eighth Day project created by Kac in collaboration with a team of scientists. The project was exhibited at the Institute for Studies in the Arts, Herberger College of Arts at Arizona State University (Tempe, USA) in 2001. The Eighth Day is a glass-enclosed environment where plant and animal species fitted with a GFP gene, which gives them a fluorescent property, co-exist with a robotic entity. This robot, which also contains transgenic materials that influence its mechanical functioning, is equipped with miniature cameras that simulate how it sees the environment for an outside observer. Addressing the theoretical debates around this project and Eduardo Kac's work in general, this book explores a broad range of approaches to evaluate the implications of a work that merges scientific research and ethical inquiry and, at the same time, does not relinquish the aesthetic dimension of art.

In their introduction, Sheilah Britton and Dan Collins (the editors of the book and the curators of the project at the Institute for Studies in Art) describe the genesis of The Eighth Day by emphasizing the links that were established between participants from the artistic and scientific community throughout the different stages of its development. Edward Lucie-Smith situates Kac's disciplinary hybridization project within art history, where contrary to commonplace assumptions about the irreconcilable aspects of art and science, aesthetic questions and scientific research have often led to fruitful collaborations. Steve Baker places Jacques Derrida's reflection about the point of view of the animal in relation to Kac's project where this point of view is simulated through visualization devices. Baker holds that Derrida and Kac both refuse to confine the "animal" and "human" terms to a binary structure that would make it the object of an exclusive discourse. For her part, Carol Baker argues that Kac's GFP Bunny (2000) project (a rabbit with GFP gene insert) calls into question the notion of life in isolation from human intervention. Like Steve Baker, Gunalan Nadarajan uses Derrida's concepts to approach the GFP Bunny, which, in his view, brings us back to the animal figure as a cultural specter. In a further reference to the theses put forth by Akira Mizuta Lippit, Nadarajan affirms that this work displaces the animal from an objectivist perspective to a place where its inscription in humanist discourses becomes manifest and problematic. N. Katherine Hayles comments on certain aspects of The Eighth Day and previous projects by Kac, such as Genesis (1998-2001) and GFP Bunny to underline the way in which they reveal the latent ideological dimensions of scientific paradigms (the genetic code understood as the book of life, as well as the comparison of information encoding systems with DNA structure). Arlindo Machado establishes a parallel between the notion of "Ars Vivendi", or living art, developed by the philosopher Vilém Flusser, and Kac's transgenic manifesto, published in 1998, in which he defines the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of his project. Machado affirms that the debates on questions of artificial life and genetically modified organisms are not the sole province of science and should therefore be discussed in the public domain. The field of art (as occupied by Kac) is, according to Machado, a possible place to undertake this democratic exercise. Dan Collins provides a detailed description of the pragmatic aspects of the Eighth Day project, which oscillates between a simulation of a scientific observation environment and the materialization of a space that produces otherness. Finally, the biologists/geneticists Alan Rawls, Jeanne Rawls and William A. Rawls define their practices and those of Kac within distinct cultural fields that may however overlap. They thus compare Kac's approach, in which relativism prevails, and the scientific protocol, which is based on the formulation of a verifiable hypothesis. This distinction leads them to discuss the semantic gaps between the terminology shared by artists and scientists (such as process, which has a different meaning within the respective cultural domains). They conclude that despite different perspectives, the scientific and artistic fields share a common project: to create a dialogic structure between the world and the subject, something they believe is exemplified by the Eighth Day project.

Vincent Bonin © 2004 FDL