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Themesicon: navigation pathCyborg Bodiesicon: navigation pathTransgenic Bodies
Transgenic Bodies
Where Art and Science Meet: Genetic Engineering in Contemporary Art1 Art and science [1]
Ingeborg Reichle


In the twentieth century, there was probably no more popular scientific term than «gene» and no other scientific discipline’s images and visual metaphors achieved the status of all-pervasive cultural icons like those of molecular biology. [2] The significance ascribed to genes, in anticipation of mapping and marketing them, extends far beyond their immediate role in heredity and development processes. The form of pictorial representation of the human genome in the shape of a double helix and images of the twenty-three pairs of human chromosomes are today no longer neutral descriptions of human genetic processes but rather have advanced to the status of ornaments and vehicles of a mythological and religious meaning of «life itself.» [3] Already around 1900, early representatives of the young discipline of genetics exhibited a tendency to indulge in utopian rhetoric, conjuring up visions of a «biological art of engineering» or a «technology of living organisms,» which did not confine itself to the shaping of plants and animals but aspired to setting new yardsticks for human coexistence and the organisation of human society. [4] Then, as now, the heralds of this «biological revolution» were predicting


nothing less than a second creation; this time, however, it would be an artificially created bio-industrial nature, which would replace the original concept of evolution.

In contemporary art, many exhibitions [5] in recent years have taken as their theme the effects of this «biological revolution» on people’s self-image and on the multi-layered interrelations between art and genetics. [6] However, in contrast to the first encounters between art and genetics, which began in the early twentieth century with art’s visual and affirmative engagement with genetics, today these «scientific» images are decoded through the linking of art and the images of the life sciences and a new way of reading them results. Artists take the terminology of the sphere of art and apply it to the technically generated images of molecular biology or other life sciences, question their claim to «objectivity» and «truth,» and render them recognisable as a space where other fields of knowledge and cultural areas are also inscribed. With the aid of an iconography of images from science, the attempt is made to decipher the cultural codes that these images transport

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