Transgenic petunia inspires art

Artist Eduardo Kac works with University scientist to create genetically modified flower.

Part man, part plant, Edunia is a work of art. A genetically modified petunia, the âÄúplantimalâÄù sits in its pot on a pedestal at the Weisman Art Museum. It is part of the Eduardo Kac: Natural History of the Enigma exhibit premiering Friday featuring KacâÄôs work incorporating art and biological technology. University of Minnesota plant biology professor Neil Olszewski worked with Kac to create a transgenic petunia using DNA from KacâÄôs immune system and OlszewskiâÄôs work on plant viruses . âÄúItâÄôll have more use in an art gallery than in a cornfield,âÄù Olszewski said of his collaborative work. The creation of Edunia and the exhibit took six years from the beginning of the project to its opening this spring . âÄúItâÄôs invented. ItâÄôs not something you buy. ItâÄôs not something you can find,âÄù Kac said. âÄúYouâÄôre producing a life-form, and that can take time.âÄù A gene from KacâÄôs immune system was isolated and implanted into the cells of a petunia. The red veins of Edunia are where KacâÄôs DNA is expressed . For the last 10 years, Kac has focused on bio-art, using the creation of life as a medium for art. âÄúThere is something irreducible about being here with another life form that never existed on this planet before,âÄù Kac said. Kac also created a 14-foot metal and fiberglass sculpture inspired by EduinaâÄôs creation titled âÄúSingularis .âÄù The sculpture can be seen in front of the Cargill Center on the St. Paul Campus . Craig Amundsen, Weisman public arts curator , said âÄúSingularis,âÄù like all works of public art, has a transformative power. âÄúThe people who see it change intellectually,âÄù Amundsen said. âÄúThere is the simple impact public art has in the aesthetic standpoint; but it also communicates to our students, so it has an educational purpose.âÄù Amundsen said art has the ability to teach âÄúsocial responsibility.âÄù KacâÄôs work will create a charged environment, Olszewski said. âÄúArt really represents a good vehicle for initiating discussion on the use of genetically modified plants and their appropriateness,âÄù he said. Six hand-made seed packets, containing EduniaâÄôs seeds, along with six lithograph prints inspired by the packets are part of the exhibit that will join the WeismanâÄôs permanent collection . âÄúItâÄôs indicative to the transformations that life in the 21st century is undergoing,âÄù Kac said.