Yesterday in the comments section of our Inhuman Art post, I asked Eileen the following faux naif question:
Eileen, I wonder. If nature (that is, random environmental variables plus sporadic gene mutation) enable the birth, viability, and maybe even the flourishing of a bioluminescent fish or rabbit, that's one thing -- even if the newfound glow has no adaptative value (i.e. is either pure surplus, or could lead to the creature more easily becoming prey). If an artist (oh, say, Eduardo Kac) creates through "transgenic art" a glow in the dark bunny, or an entire biosphere of self illuminating creatures, that's a work of another order. Right?
Can nature be an artist? Or are both Kac and nature (whatever the heck nature is) not artists considering that their medium is living flesh and their modus potentially inhumane?
I'm frontpaging it now to ask if there isn't away that the production of such living, glowing, embodied art (if that is what it is) doesn't intersect with our recent conversation about the queer.
Look for a moment at the quotation I provided (The Monstrous and the Queer) from Carolyn Dinshaw, about how "queer" works:
Queerness works by contiguity and displacement, knocking signifiers loose, ungrounding bodies, making them strange; it works in this way to provoke perceptual shifts and subsequent corporeal response in those touched ... It makes people stop and look at what they have been taking as natural, and it provokes inquiry into the ways that 'natural' has been produced by particular discursive matrices of heteronormativity. ("Chaucer's Queer Touches / A Queer Touches Chaucer" 76-77)
Doesn't a transgenic, eerily green, glow in the dark bunny do all those things? I want to take Eileen's caution to heart: there is something disturbing about fucking with the genetics, consciousness, embodiment just because you can: dreaming of uploading human subjectivity and memory into a robot, for example, to "perfect" the human. Where's the art in that? Transmuting a dead hog into a motorboat likewise doesn't do anything that's especially creative: it's a little gross, a little funny, but in the end the world remains pretty much the same. But Alba the florescent green bunny seems different from these other examples. Here is Kac's description of the GFP Bunny project:
My transgenic artwork "GFP Bunny" comprises the creation of a green fluorescent rabbit, the public dialogue generated by the project, and the social integration of the rabbit. GFP stands for green fluorescent protein. "GFP Bunny" was realized in 2000 and first presented publicly in Avignon, France. Transgenic art, I proposed elsewhere , is a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering to transfer natural or synthetic genes to an organism, to create unique living beings. This must be done with great care, with acknowledgment of the complex issues thus raised and, above all, with a commitment to respect, nurture, and love the life thus created.
Does it matter that Alba was created with love? That the bunny was nurtured? That this was a project mindful of consequence? Does that make this cute little glowing green creature any less (or any more) queer?
By the way, the whole project is worth reading about, especially because it is so mindful of history. Following the links above will direct you to a conversation about how humans have shaped the rabbit over the centuries, and an argument for why the production of Alba isn't a breeding program but art. Here's one more quote:
"GFP Bunny" is a transgenic artwork and not a breeding project ... Traditionally, animal breeding has been a multi-generational selection process that has sought to create pure breeds with standard form and structure, often to serve a specific performative function. As it moved from rural milieus to urban environments, breeding de-emphasized selection for behavioral attributes but continued to be driven by a notion of aesthetics anchored on visual traits and on morphological principles. Transgenic art, by contrast, offers a concept of aesthetics that emphasizes the social rather than the formal aspects of life and biodiversity, that challenges notions of genetic purity, that incorporates precise work at the genomic level, and that reveals the fluidity of the concept of species in an ever increasingly transgenic social context. As a transgenic artist, I am not interested in the creation of genetic objects, but on the invention of transgenic social subjects. In other words, what is important is the completely integrated process of creating the bunny, bringing her to society at large, and providing her with a loving, caring, and nurturing environment in which she can grow safe and healthy. This integrated process is important because it places genetic engineering in a social context in which the relationship between the private and the public spheres are negotiated. In other words, biotechnology, the private realm of family life, and the social domain of public opinion are discussed in relation to one another. Transgenic art is not about the crafting of genetic objets d'art, either inert or imbued with vitality. Such an approach would suggest a conflation of the operational sphere of life sciences with a traditional aesthetics that privileges formal concerns, material stability, and hermeneutical isolation. Integrating the lessons of dialogical philosophy and cognitive ethology, transgenic art must promote awareness of and respect for the spiritual (mental) life of the transgenic animal. The word "aesthetics" in the context of transgenic art must be understood to mean that creation, socialization, and domestic integration are a single process. The question is not to make the bunny meet specific requirements or whims, but to enjoy her company as an individual (all bunnies are different), appreciated for her own intrinsic virtues, in dialogical interaction.
So this is very far from screw-the-consequences science ... Serious stuff, but also inherently funny, perhaps because it is so de-naturalizing (a green bunny that glows in the dark? so cute and so strange at once).