Artist Statement (V1.3)
“In 1985, the US Patents and trademarks Office (PTO) affirmed the legal precedent, ruling that genetically engineered plants, seeds and plant tissue could all be patented”1. Today, agricultural crops are being modified and organisms with built-in obsolescence are being sold as commodities. Life itself is quickly becoming a processed commodity in the privatization of nature. Biological engineering by large companies, outside of nature has become a terrifying reality for my generation to contend with.
Today, we are well within the process of desensitizing an upcoming generation towards accepting bioengineering as “natural”. I see this generation slowly and systematically being desensitized towards owning and manipulating life through toys such as Tamagotchis, and Furbies. Toys that mimic living creatures but carry no weight of responsibility with them. Individually these objects are harmless, however when analysing the trends in consumption on a larger scale, we can see that with every new toy the envelope is pushed a little further. Bioengineered pets could not have been acceptable yesterday, but they are today. Boundaries have been eroded.
I fear that this is leading us onto a dangerous path of objectifying living matter even more than we do so today and Genpets is my interpretation of how such a relationship would look. We have artificially separated ourselves from nature and refer to the organic as ‘product’.
Any new technology can bring with it both positive and negative ramifications. However we must ask questions every step of the way. I see how we treat the life already surrounding us that we have no moral claim over and I fear for any life brought into the world through the act of genetic manipulation; Life that would inherently have patented DNA. It would not be far fetched to assume that any such creation would have no rights of its own and be subject to whatever treatment deemed necessary upon it. Whether by testing, or packaging, this life would be a commodity of less value than any we have today. Genpets is meant to ask questions about a great deal of issues by providing a tangible example of a possible future.
*1 (Science, Seeds and Cyborgs, pg93)
This piece is a mix of design, industry, art and science. The sculpture consists of nineteen plastic packages hung from store hooks displaying streamlined, mass produced Bio-engineered life. The setup is complimented by small video displays, posters, and a product catalogue, which display information and video clips about the products.
Each package consists of custom vacuum formed plastic surrounding a foam latex animatron; Strange animals, grown and altered, by bioengineering, but clearly mammalian. They are twitching, shaking, clawing, and head butting their packaging but twist ties keep them held in place. Feeding tubes supply the creatures with nourishment, as well as electricity for the glowing “fresh strips” and heart monitors. But these are not plastic toys, these are mass produced, copyrighted life; modified for consumption.
These animals have been deemed worthless and marketed as midrange children’s toys. Like curiosities, they are on display but not in glass jars, rather plastic. They are tethered, but for practicality, not for security, and these cables demonstrate their relationship of utter dependency and submission right away upon birth. They are asleep in their packages complacently waiting to join their new homes as one more possession as the latest and greatest form of consumable technology.
The piece is meant to illicit a reaction, though many times it gets a very scary positive acceptance from teens + resellers. When I designed Genpets, I had no clue how people would react. It disturbed me to see such a positive acceptance of Genpets by people who wanted to buy a genetic pet. There are of course people that get Genpets and what I am getting at, as well as those that “cried upon seeing them”. Overall though, Genpets.com has been swamped with emails from people wanting to buy a pre-packaged pet.
As many have said, this proves the importance and relevance of Genpets as an art piece. It baffles me how one generation can be banging at a store window in absolute protest and outrage, while the younger is crying out and demanding I sell them.
The traffic and debates that develop from having Genpets displayed is always interesting, and while it’s not what I originally intended, part of making artwork is understanding that once it is public, it is out of the artist’s control. People will all interpret it differently, and come to their own conclusions.
A quick note about the packaging
I don’t believe the pets in package to be a far stretch. Take a look at any farm or pet store; we already package our animals. The idea behind the Genpet packages is that Bio-Genica places the animals into an artificial hibernation. Again, when I read in a newspaper that scientists have just combined sheep + spider to make stronger thread, is it far out to assume we could add a gene for hibernation from another animal? I think not. I think many of the concepts behind Genpets are far less ‘out there’ than the majority of what is happening behind closed doors.
People always cite animal laws to me in an attempt to point out that there would be so much moral outrage over Genpets it could never occur. I’m not sure why this comes up so often, but it does. To those people I say this: take a trip to a farm, or the testing labs for dog food, makeup, etc. Don’t quote animal protection rights to me. We follow them when they suite us, and we don’t just ignore them when they don’t, we completly ignore any such situations. If you want to ignore the truth that’s fine, but don’t try to force ignorance on me, or anyone else for that matter.
We already package and strap down animals, pump them full of drugs, and hook various tubes into them. When we can take natural animals and legally label them ‘product’ and strip away all animal rights, why would a genetically modified organism with patented DNA made by a large corporation be given more rights? It just wouldn’t happen. They would clearly have less rights and it would be fully suitable to treat them this way, most likely not in such an obvious manner, but under the candy coated lining, it would be what it always is.