A study that triggered my interest is the “Free Range Grain” project that was a live performance by Critical Art Ensemble, Beatriz de Costa, and Shyh-shiun Shyu. The project first took place at Frankfurt, Germany and repeated again at Graz, Austria in 2003. The project was initiated because the European Union passed a strict laws that enforces food industries to label genetic modified foods with “GM” (GMO for the US equivalent). The reasoning for this is to inform the public about the origin and manufacturing procedure of the food in the market and to see if the food that they are buying are genetically modified or natural. Food companies argues that labeling the genetically modified food doesn’t help the public and is not good for their businesses.
The project used several biotechnology equipment that can be found in many laboratories in the medical, pharmaceutical, and research fields. The CAE, de Costa, and Shyu used thermal cycler, microcentrifuge, vortex mixer, electrophoresis workstation, micropipets, pipet tips, micro test tubes, agarose powders, and DNA stains.
The protocol for the project has a lot of steps that include preparing the sample, preparing the magnetic beads, preparing PCR, running the PCR, preparing the gel, preparing the agarose/PCR dye, running the gel, dying the gel, and taking the data of the gel. Sequencing the DNA of the food takes over an hour since there’s a lot of steps that are repeated.
The project is conducted during the time where genetic modification of food is not totally accepted by society especially in Europe. In the United States, genetic modification of food is almost necessary because of the factorization of crops that are sold in local grocery stores. GMOs are bred in labs and mass produce in large-scale farms because the growing world population demands more production of essential crops. With the globalization of a free market system, food is not immune from the import/export to a country that does not have the ideal factors of growing it. Food companies have relied in modifying the genetics of food products to have greater amounts of production, protection from diseases, and longer shelf-lives.
This artistic project is related to bringing up public action for the issues that might have serious health consequences. CAE, de Costa, and Shyu are empowering people to become citizens of science and aware of the things that are tampered with through technology and science. This project also brings up mutual positivism between human and vegetation where we rely much of our diet from plants. Although we as humans try to alter nature for to our own advantage, there can also be negative impacts to the things we change especially in the molecular level. We might not be able to see the adverse effects until we study the long term effects and it is too late.
– Oneil Leif Parrilla