Contemporary American artist Eduardo Kac, as discussed in the second lecture, has produced artworks that explore the boundary between technology and the visual arts. They encompass many genres such as robotics, virtual reality, genomes, and transgenesis. His most renowned project GFP Bunny involved extracting a GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) gene from a jellyfish and inserting it into a rabbit’s DNA to make it glow. Kac hoped that this would spark a public debate about the practice of gene manipulation. He also planned to eventually remove Alba the rabbit from the INRA lab (a research lab in France) after the gene transfer and raise it as a domestic pet. The lab’s spokesmen, however, did not grant Kac the authorization to do so because they believed that taking Alba out of the lab would have dangerous implications.
In an article titled “Trans-Genesis: An Interview with Eduardo Kac”, Kac defends his work by arguing that Alba does not present anymore of a threat to the outside world than the transgenic pigs and sheep that currently live safely on farmlands among humans and other animals (Lynch, 1). Kac clarifies that Alba was not an experiment precisely because he made sure before starting the project that the bunny would not experience any suffering or deformity. Additionally, Kac mentions how Louis-Marie Houdebine (the scientist who helped him with the project) had previously experimented with rabbits and the GFP gene and yielded successful results. Therefore, Kac confidently asserts that Alba is not unique and it would not pose as a hazard to society.
Online Article: http://www.ekac.org/newformations.html
Although transgenesis presents a major breakthrough in biotechnology due to its ability to genetically engineer animals and produce the most desirable traits, many critics still disapprove of this manipulation process. As discussed in chapter two of Stephen Wilson’s book Information Arts, many scientific and technological developments like transgenesis raise disconcerting questions that ask people to consider the ethical concerns and implications produced from such advancements (59). Opponents of Kac’s GFP Bunny project assert that complex organisms should not suffer genetic manipulation in the name of art. Additionally, they contend that the performed physical modifications pose possible health risks for the bunny as well as threats to the environment if released. While these critics do bring up valid concerns, there exist situations in which transgenesis is accepted as an ethically viable procedure. For example, when transgenic animals are created strictly for legitimate scientific purposes and kept in a “safe” laboratory setting the procedure is considered justified. I find this contradiction very interesting. Why does society tend to be more afraid and critical of transgenic processes when associated with the art world than with the science world?