Week 6: Biotechnology + Art

Alba, the GFP bunny
With ever-evolving technology, research institutes have also been innovating, constantly. And now, there are also collaborations between these research institutes and artists for the purposes of creating art. One of the early examples of the collaboration between researchers and artists is Eduardo Kac’s GFP bunny, Alba.
Alba is an example of transgenic art, which is “a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering techniques to transfer synthetic genes to an organism or to transfer natural genetic material from one species into another, to create unique living beings.” By modifying the genes of Alba, using microinjection of fluorescent jellyfish's genes, Kac hybridized a form of life in the rabbit to a form of art, which changed its purpose to now be a live display of art.

An example of hybridizing flowers
Another example of hybridization is Edward Steichen's and George Gessert's works with flowers. Similar to Kac, Steichen and Gessert were able to achieve this phenomenon by altering the genes, chemical structures, of the flowers. However, unlike Alba, the flowers' appearances were much more hybridized as they resembled the physical appearance of the original flowers whereas Alba was only made to glow.

Marta de Menezes' alteration of butterfly's wing patterns
Despite the new intersection and development of art between researchers and artists, there are many opponents of this art. An issue opponents argue is the harmful effects of genetic modification of live objects. This can be seen in Marta de Menezes' attempts to alter the wing patterns of live butterflies, which resulted in the creation of holes in their wings. Another potential issue is Orlan's Harlequin Coat, which is made of various people's skin pieces. When profit is made from body parts, the question of ownership and compensation arises as people who influenced the project in any way should benefit from its success. A well-known instance of this issue can be traced back to Henrietta Lacks, whose genes were unknowingly used, and are still being used, to make advancements in medicine. However, because ownership of the cells is in question, Lacks' family has yet to benefit from the use of her live cells.

While I believe life itself can be a valid medium for art, the issue of ownership must be settled in order to compensate all parties that allow for the projects to happen. Until then, art on life should be performed either on objects that exists in nature or on oneself, like Stelarc did with his Extra Ear.

Works Cited
Doucleff, Michaeleen. "Decades After Henrietta Lacks' Death, Family Gets A Say On Her Cells." NPR. NPR, 07 Aug. 2013. Web. 08 May 2016.
"'Henrietta Lacks': A Donor's Immortal Legacy." NPR. NPR, 02 Feb. 2010. Web. 07 May 2016.
Kelty, Chris. Meanings of Participation: Outlaw Biology?.
Levy, Ellen K. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classification.
PBS. "POV | Food, Inc. | Interview with Michael Pollan | PBS." YouTube. YouTube, 16 Apr. 2010. Web. 07 May 2016.
Uconlineprogram. "5 BioArt Pt1, P2, Pt3, Pt4, P5." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 May 2016.


  1. Interesting point about Henrietta Lacks. One wonders how much gender/race factored into the use of her cells without giving compensation to her relatives.

    I'm curious, though, about what your personal opinion is about cell ownership and genetic modification.
    -Jacob Hoffman


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