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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007

New bioart explores consequences of recent scientific discoveries

Jan. 25, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- "Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26)

Eduardo Kac, Genesis

Eduardo Kac, "Genesis," 1999, Transgenic work, Courtesy of Karpio Facchini Gallery

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To create the key element of his work Genesis, contemporary "bioartist" Eduardo Kac translated a sentence from the book of Genesis into Morse code and converted the code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle he specially developed for the work. He then implanted the resulting "artist's gene" into an unspecified bacteria, placed it in a Petri dish and allowed online viewers to cause -- through the use of ultraviolet light -- real, biological mutations in the bacteria.

This action changed the biblical sentence in the bacteria, as well, leading Kac to declare on his Web site, "The ability to change the sentence is a symbolic gesture: it means that we do not accept its meaning in the form we inherited it, and that new meanings emerge as we seek to change it."

Genesis is one of several recent works of bioart that will be featured in the upcoming Human Nature II: Future Worlds exhibition and lecture series at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Fine Arts (SoFA) Gallery. The works, which will be on display from Feb. 9 to March 9, address the social, political and ethical implications related to recent advancements in the life sciences, including those in the areas of stem cell research, the human genome, cloning and genetic engineering.

They also raise questions about the consequences of unfettered artistic and scientific experimentation.

"Techniques, tools and scientific protocols are all being utilized by artists to create new art," said SoFA Gallery Director Betsy Stirratt. "It has meant that our culture must look more closely, and possibly regard more carefully and seriously, what artists are producing and what impact these new artworks will have on our lives.

"Culture has traditionally had a complex relationship with artistic products, and their impact has ranged from tangible to insignificant," she added. "These new bio artworks are the stepping-stones to more extreme and transgressive work, and are using the same technology that is being developed for scientists."

Both artists and scientists share an "affinity" for experimentation and a desire to forge new frontiers in their fields, Stirratt explained. The nine national and international artists who will have their work displayed at the SoFA Gallery have brought to the forefront ethical and moral issues related to scientific research in the areas of genetics, biotechnology, scientific imagery and genomics. They have done so by pushing the limits of their artistic practice, experimenting with new technologies, manipulating nature, and employing living tissues and organisms in their works, often within the structure of a scientific environment.

"It is a way for them to reap the benefits of both worlds," Stirratt said, "and also to achieve satisfaction with the idea of creating something subversive within the mainstream scientific community."

Eva Sutton, Mutations

Eva Sutton, "Mutations," 2003, Interactive video projection

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Human Nature II is the second part of a two-part exhibition that began last fall at the SoFA Gallery. Human Nature I: The Natural World, which was held from Oct. 20 to Nov. 18, 2006, included artworks and scientific imaging that depicted nature and the body.

In addition to works of bioart, the Human Nature II exhibition will contain regular photographic images, paintings and interactive pieces that address ideas of experimentation. It also will feature several lectures and book signings that will complement the themes introduced by the artworks. Kac will discuss "Telepresence & Bio Art" on Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m. in the School of Fine Arts building, room 015. His lecture and book signing will be followed by an opening reception for the Human Nature II exhibition that will include a performance by artist Paul Vanouse. The opening reception is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the SoFA Gallery.

Art historian Barbara Maria Stafford will deliver a lecture, followed by a book signing, on March 1 at 6 p.m. in the Radio and TV Building, room 251. Her lecture is titled "The Return of Grammars of Expression: Schematizing Nature & the Body."

On March 8 at 7 p.m., the SoFA Gallery will host a public forum and discussion titled "Selling it or Giving it Away: A Discussion about Tissue Research, Ownership & Consent." The event will include several respected faculty members from IU Bloomington and the IU Medical Center, including Eric Meslin, the executive director of the IU Center for Bioethics and a professor of medicine, medical and molecular genetics, and philosophy. Meslin advised the Clinton White House on a range of bioethics issues, including cloning and stem cell research. He will be joined by Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center for Ethics and American Institutions and professor of religious studies at IUB, and Mark Pescovitz, professor of surgery, and microbiology and immunology, and vice chair of research at the IU Medical Center.

All events are free and open to the public.

The Human Nature project is being supported by New Frontiers, New Perspectives, the College Arts and Humanities Initiative at IU, and the Indiana Arts Commission.

For more on Human Nature, visit

For more on the SoFA Gallery, go to The gallery is open from Tuesday to Friday, noon to 4 p.m.