Monday, November 01, 2004

Some background and opinions on my interview with Eduardo Kac

Kac is, as he writes on his web site. "internationally recognized for his interactive net installations and his bio art." While he has done quite a number of things that on their own, do have a sort of "oh cool!" factor, the thing that he is most well known for is GFP Bunny, aka Alba, aka "that damn bunny." In a nutshell, an albino rabbit that has a wild-type green fluorescent gene found in the jellyfish Aequorea Victoria, so that it glows under black light. My main difficulty with Kac's creation of Alba is his willful disregard for a wider ethical view than his own. As he stated, the only ethical thing he was concerned with was in making sure that Alba wasn't harmed in her creation. Unfortunately there are scads and scads of other things that he should have been aware of before jumping into a situation where he was playing god.

The interview started off with a bang, as Kac tried to lecture me about the differences between Alba and some "regular art." Subject versus object? Give me a break! If you're creating a subject, then you're most likely a King or an Emperor raping some woman who lives in your territory without any birth control - there's also a small chance you might be a composer or a big shot at a university, depending on which definition of "subject" you're reading. But trying to make a distinction between an art subject and an art object by using Alba is freakin' ridiculous. Kac insists that he wanted Alba as a pet for his daughter, and that "the social integration" of Alba was as important as the genetic markers used to make her glow. But the bunny is still locked up in some laboratory in France. From what I understand, a cat locked up at the local SPCA gets more social interaction than Alba.

If I make a painting, and because I'm using some special sludge-like paint (thinking I can be better than Ripoelle, Bourduas and Pollock combined) and it ends up being 17 feet thick at the thinnest point, some people are sure as shootin' gonna call it a sculpture. I would imagine that most people would call it a sculpture, and no matter how hard I rant and rave about it being a painting, they are likely to experience it as a sculpture. No matter how hard and loud Kac rants and raves about wanting Alba to be an art subject, Alba is an object. If and when she gets out of the laboratory we can discuss Alba becoming a subject, in passing the lifespan of rabbit kept indoors is about nine to 12 years. Alba's already been alive for four years.

Kac continued to try and nuance the difference between subject and object by saying that "an object that is being prevented from decay can't love you back." I'm fairly positive that his daughter has (or had) some stuffed animal that she carried around exactly like I carried around my stuffed elephant when I was under the age of four. Elphie (the name of my stuffed animal) loved me, I am positive, and nobody could convince me otherwise. I'm fairly certain that this is the case with his daughter's stuffed animal as well, and lots of other stuffed animals out there. It looks to me that objects being prevented from decay, can in fact, love you back.

I screwed up in my next question, I should have said something along the lines of "where do you get the idea to create a living organism as a piece of art?" I deserved the response that I got. After we got that out of the way I went back to what I thought was an easy question. But his waffling and goobldy-gook about there not being a "eureka!" moment is ludicrous. A simpler way would have been to say, "I don't want to tell you." And I definitely need to practice my interviewing skills, I asked him about "playing god" and what he thought of the reaction to Alba and let him wiggle out, all over a different piece of his. Jeez!

His other big deal about Alba centers around his insistence that the reaction, discussion was, or as he put it "alternative modes of communication…" He said I wanted "to generate public debate but I could not see that the debate would be so vast, that it would continue for such a long time, and that it would happen at such a large physical scale around the globe, trickling down to children's classrooms, as well as PhD classrooms, and everything in between. That I couldn't foresee."

I responded; "Why not? You were playing God. I would say, "Yeah, that's pretty big stuff once you toss that out there."

If there is one thing that I have learned by having a gallery it is that the quality of the art is directly proportional to the artist's skill with their medium. If the public debate was an integral part of Alba as art, then Kac really could use some classes in public relations. He stated that a Picasso painting had never inserted itself into "a circle that has the objective to generate public discussion." As an attempt at proving that this idea of reaction was something new in art. All I can say is, "Guernica, Guernica, Guernica." It struck me that Kac was like myself, somewhat blind in what he was doing. The difference I see (albeit limited by the fact that I talk to myself pretty much every day, but only spoke with Kac once in my life) is that I am willing to admit that I know diddly-squat, and attempt to learn from other people and my mistakes, Kac seems to not be willing to waver one iota from his original idea.

He kept trying to make a difference between the reaction to the bunny as he initially intended, and the reaction to what actually happened. Hammering hard, again, if he is supposed to be such a kick-ass artist, and an integral part of his art is the freakin' reaction to it, then why couldn't he control it? I tried to make a lame ass analogy to a painter not knowing his colors, and he flipped it on its head by invoking a sense of discovery, as I've said, I really gotta work on my interview skills. But since I am not talking with him here, to build on the references to purple in the interview, an artist can't be saying he wanted a blue sky but "oops! It accidentally came out purple, and it looks sorta cool, but it still is really a blue sky." If it is purple it is purple, if it is blue it is blue.

The conversation then headed off into what I fondly recall as "popular perception." Kac tried hard to distance himself from the general public, making such statements as: "It will not be possible to have a child with blue eyes or a specific intelligence" and "I don't see morally, in principle, that one reproductive method being better or worse than another." My main train of thought was based on Alba being the "thin edge of the wedge" with regards towards genetic manipulation in the general public. It is so obvious to me, but not to Kac, that in the same way that Guernica opened people's eyes with regards to the horrors happening in Spain in 1937, Alba opened people's eyes to genetic manipulation. However, where Guernica was about the horrors of war, Alba is a fluffy white bunny - despite Monty Python's Holy Grail - it is not exactly something that is going to strike fear into the hearts of the world.

And no matter how you cut it, genetic manipulation is something serious and it should cause people to pause and think hard. Because Kac doesn't think that cloning is possible, and he thinks patenting biologic processes is alright. Unfortunately the short list of technology used irresponsibly is not a short list. And ultimately Kac's failure stems from his refusing to recognize that art does and can affect how people view the world and understand it. A fluffy white bunny is about as superficial as you can get.

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