Exhibition puts genetics under art’s microscope

Emily Ayshford

With the art building on the West Bank and science buildings on the East Bank and St. Paul Campus, the two departments do not often cross paths.

But members of both faculty are a part of “Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics,” which opened Saturday at the Weisman Art Museum.

The exhibition features more than 50 works dealing with the possible social impacts of genetic research.

For one work, Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac worked with a team of French geneticists to create “Alba,” a transgenic animal created by splicing the DNA of an albino rabbit and a Pacific Northwest jellyfish. The result was a living rabbit that glows green under certain blue lights.

Kac wanted the scientists to release the rabbit in 1999 to live with a family. When the French government refused, Kac started an artistic crusade to have the animal released. The display in the museum documents Kac’s campaign.

Another Kac display includes a biblical quote translated into Morse code, which was then translated into genetic code and finally translated into transgenic DNA.

The exhibition also includes a series of gallery talks and lectures with University science and art professors.

Phil Regal, a University ecology, evolution and behavior professor, will teach a class titled “Art, Genes and the Future: the Artistic Challenge in the Age of Biology” during the exhibition.

Regal said he has studied genetic engineering as a science and as a social movement for 20 years, and is interested in art, so he plans to use his background to incite dialogue on the subject.

“Genetic engineering is going to change human life as much as the Industrial Revolution or more,” he said. He said he hopes artists enroll in the class because he is interested in hearing their views on the subject.

The marriage of two fields in the exhibition makes it more compelling, Weisman program director Ann Benrud said.

“It triggers a lot of questions about what genetic research and genetic exploration is going to mean to the average person,” she said. The University is a perfect place for dialogue on the subject, and this exhibit might attract a crowd that does not usually visit the museum, Benrud said.

“We’re always struggling to connect with different areas of the University,” she said.

The exhibition is on display through May 2.