Genetic Engineering and Contemporary Art: Structural Aspects and the Problems

By Bulatov, Dmitry | Trames, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Genetic Engineering and Contemporary Art: Structural Aspects and the Problems


Bulatov, Dmitry, Trames


1. Indigenous alien

Judging from various revolutionary art trends in the 20th century (from Futurism and Dadaism to numerous components of the international art-network of its later years) that focused on the study of "the borders of culture fostering their own breakdown," we know that culture, in order to re-emerge in a new light, always has to produce something of its own alien, besides something of its own. And along with this it has to generate a necessary and quite high degree of tension in their relationships. Culture is ready to implement both its own alien and something of its own out of almost any available material. The material is, or can comprise various manipulations with a sequence of the above indicated. Mythological consciousness is the principle mechanism of generating the alien as a prerequisite for awareness of its own. This is the collective consciousness in society. The essential or maybe the principal elements of assimilating 'the unknown' are various indirect strategies of producing the own alien (for instance, reflections caused by the recurrent tide of material and technical deconstruction). By means of those strategies the mythological consciousness takes care of maintaining the borders as a safeguarding area between the own and the alien. Being a faithful guard of the cultural world, a constituent of the immune system of the culture organism and one of the working parts of mythological consciousness, contemporary art with its heightened sensitivity to everything alien plays an extremely important role in maintaining these borders.

The cultural destiny and the sense auras of bio- and genetic engineering technologies up to now were wholly determined by the fact that they are still considered culturally shocking. They are not entirely accepted by culture, they have not yet become so natural as to pass unnoticed, and are perceived as something alien. During the present intense, nervous and uneven period of assimilation, these technologies occupy an unsteady position between chaotic formless disorder on the one hand, and incessant attempts to stabilise them, and on the other hand are regulated and systematic; balancing on this edge they fall alternately into one of these two categories. Today they almost entirely fit the niche of the alien, being subsequently ascribed various implications like either a panacea for mankind's salvation, or a provocation of a world catastrophe and the coming of doomsday. Culture, which sets limits, and thanks to that and exactly because of that is able to overcome them, needs mastering the phenomenon of bio- and gene technologies, the latter undoubtedly being one of the most significant landmarks of nowadays, and a sign of an important stage in formulating the general idea of 'borders'. Therefore, as a variant of the own alien, which is meant to be adapted, in contemporary art new trends are emerging that apply estimative technologies of risks while creating bio-temporal images of reality.

2. The chimerical idea

The sensational discovery of the molecular structure of DNA made in 1953 by the physicist Francis Crick and the biochemist James Watson was a cornerstone in the development not only of genetics, but also of certain 'contiguous disciplines'. Along with this, numerous studies undertaken by various groups of scholars caused a real current of research into the molecular foundations of heredity. The discovery of a double DNA spiral and indisputable arguments by A. Hershey and M. Chase proving that DNA contains the genetic material of an organism, have proven the reliability of the empirical fundamentals of Darwin's evolutionary theory and Mendel's theory of heredity. Fifteen years after molecular biology had emerged and got formed, scholars came to mastering opportunities of genetic engineering, i.e. the methods of influencing a cell in order to obtain the desired genetic information. Thus, they had found a method of changing special features and characteristics of living organisms directly as it is needed, including penetration through inter-specific reproductive barriers. …

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