Adam Zaretsky is an American Wet-Lab Art Practitioner mixing Ecology, Biotechnology, Non-human Relations, Body Performance and Gastronomy. Makery invites him for a summer series of speculative texts based on his own artistic practice and the ethical and philosophical questions he raises regarding contemporary biotechnological research.
As a follow-up to the Open Source Body symposium and festival organised by the Makery medialab this May at the Cité Internationale des Arts as part of the European ART4MED programme, we are opening our columns this summer to Adam Zaretsky, a pioneer in the field of bioart, a provocative performer and a troublemaker in biotechnological research, for a series of speculative texts on the ethical and philosophical questions raised by his own artistic practice as well as by contemporary biological research.
Adam Zaretsky is a Wet-Lab Art Practitioner mixing Ecology, Biotechnology, Non-human Relations, Body Performance and Gastronomy. Zaretsky stages lively, hands-on bioart production labs based on topics such as: foreign species invasion (pure/impure), radical food science (edible/inedible), jazz bioinformatics (code/flesh), tissue culture (undead/semi-alive), transgenic design issues (traits/desires), interactive ethology (person/machine/non-human) and physiology (performance/stress). A former researcher at the MIT department of biology, Adam runs a public life arts school: VASTAL (The Vivoarts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd.). His art practice focuses on an array of legal, ethical, social and libidinal implications of biotechnological materials and methods with a focus on transgenic humans.
His first text, “Transgenic Ecology: An Oxymoron?” questions the possibility of a “Homo Sapiens Solaris” and what it would imply in a possible future.
Transgenic Ecology: An Oxymoron? Global Foreign Solar Species Invasion
What if we made stable transgenic zebrafish who were able to feed off of sunlight? The application of this methodology might save farmers money. Eliminating the need to pay to feed farmed fish (or other livestock) would certainly cut down on expenses. Solar cows, solar pigs, solar chickens would free up edible grain for hungry humans without sacrificing human tendencies for flesh consumption. On the other hand, if solar powered livestock became released from captivity, we might be in the middle of a global foreign solar species invasion.
It is a dystopian worry but we have to consider the ecological effect on the oceans, the deserts, the cities, the tundra and the jungles when teeming with exotic solar powered feral, free range, diasporic lifeforms. How would this affect endangered species, native species and global ecology in general? Do we know enough about the metabolism of planet earth to go about geo-engineering applied global sustainability? Whether the escape from industry is due to intentional release or escape of their own instinctual volition, what will be the result of solar powered species reproducing freely in the environment? Artificial leaves with spines might leave retrograde, non-solar powered, heritage species at a great fitness disadvantage. How might this effect living diversity?
Food Politics: Photosynthetic Food Critique
Until we become fully photosynthetic, and no longer eat, we can still talk about the aesthetics of eating solar powered animals. What kind of meat can we make with technology? For instance, yet to go to market hordes of pigs have been bred “true through transgenic technology to express spinach desaturase gene known as FAD2.” This means that the pork chops from these pigs have inbuilt extra omega-3 oils usually found in spinach, fish and snake oils. “This study is the first time that a plant gene has been functionally expressed in a complex mammalian system. This success may open the road towards the production of pork that is better for the consumer.” The new veggie pork is applauded among geneticists and industry breeders as a way to, “facilitate public acceptance of genetically modified food and pave the way for the commercial production of transgenic animals. … It will be possible to deliver better bacon in the next decade or so.”
These fresh piglets have the latest extras. They are retrofitted with the newest aesthetic productions of genetic enhancement the industry can offer. Are these pigs aesthetically kitsch because of their consumerist potential? Or is a spinach pig just strange enough to lift itself off the kitsch gravy train and into spectacular disgust? Really, doesn’t it depend how the pork chops taste? Using your imagination, how different do you hypothesize solar fish, solar chicken, solar pig or other solar meat will taste? Is photosynthetic meat unappetizing to you? Why or why not?
The End of Gourmet
It seems that if we make humans photosynthetic, eating will become optional. What will this do to the gourmet industries and traditions built around particular dietary extravagances? The joy and oral fixations that come with tasty meals may be usurped by solar feeding. How will this affect the human psyche? What will we use to replace the time where we used to spend devouring other life forms? Will we crave pure olfactory experiences three times a day? Should we start offering scent buffets?
Human Applications: Aesthetics and Loss – Beyond Enlargement
Promoting human use of biotechnology to redesign ourselves is not the worst idea. Unfortunately, most human genetic modification advocates forget to think creatively about the full range of forms and cognitive beings we could force evolve our species into. Naïve optimism is often based on futurist potentials that emphasize: longer life span, stronger health/constitution, more beauty and bigger brains. Where can fringe anatomical and metabolic goals take us, beyond enhancement, general enlargement and ‘goody two shoes’ betterment? What resulting forms of genome bending would exemplify the politics and aesthetics of Solar Humanity?
Perhaps a less Apollonian version of the sun might do well to color the ideation. From George Bataille’s The Solar Anus, we have corroboration between the blinding rays of solar light and excremental volcanoes of shit and magma,
“Solid elements, contained and brewed in water animated by erotic movement, shoot out in the form of flying fish. The erection and the sun scandalize, in the same way as the cadaver and the darkness of cellars. Vegetation is uniformly directed towards the sun; human beings, on the other hand, even though phalloid like trees, in opposition to other animals, necessarily avert their eyes. Human eyes tolerate neither sun, coitus, cadavers, nor obscurity, but with different reactions.”
If Homo sapiens solaris adds a potential chthonic direction for future transgenic transhumanism, what queer advice can you give to artists and engineers who would intentionally alter future people’s minds, senses, body differences and living décor?
Failing through Energy Abundance
Solar powered humans could stop eating altogether. We could leave the mouth orifice for other uses (i.e. breathing, talking, affectionate love making.) Eventually teeth and taste buds might become obsolete. But, we would be able to exist without edible nutrition. This shows promise for future space travelers as well as a back up plan in the case of worldwide famine. But, what if this generally sustainable course of action backfired? What if the entire world economy lost productivity due to photosynthetic human vegetation? That is, if humans become sustainable through sunlight alone, why would we work in any productive way? With bodily needs provided (food, heat, pleasure) simply by lying in a hammock under direct sunlight, who would desire to make something so idiotic as money?
Is this a way to insure a less dynamic planetary equilibrium? Is this an appropriate technology because it disables through solar paralysis our anthropogenic environmental destructive tendencies? What about the hypothetical problems of obesity in the tropics or equatorial solar overdose? Would there be sunlight wars? Would political prisoners be sentenced to darkness gulags where they would suffer from arctic anorexia for their analytical prowess? What if we really became more vegetal? Who would we be, once we spread out, flattened our extremities over time and simply lifted our heads up, to the sun, in order to become blinded by the light in a sacrificial alter-ideal: transhuman, flower-faced, mutilated meat plants?
Special Human Tricks: Co-Culture, Chloroplasts and Human Embryonic Stem Cells
We plan to co-culture chloroplasts and human embryonic stem cells merely to watch their interactions. These interactions might include potential changes in 1) morphology, 2) motility style (gait) and 3) colony pattern formation according to a) comparative concentration of seed cultures, b) teratogenic amendments and c) ultra violet video projection exposure. Social opinion differs widely on the use of human embryonic stem cells for science or other forms of art. The use of embryonic stem cells for co-cultures is not regulated but the microinjection or fusion of non-human cells with human embryonic stem cells is quite forbidden. Although, the legal status of interspecies organelle transfer is probably still fuzzy.
Reimplantation of grown embroid bodies into pseudo-pregnant female human uteri is frowned upon, but this is standard practice in fertility laboratories at most Masonic hospitals and the practice is ubiquitous in Utah. Transhuman eugenics is quietly becoming a global pandemic while bioethics oversight provides the veneer of propriety to the general public and legal plausible deniability (informed debate) to shield from law suits against improper risk assessment.
Follow Adam Zaretsky in Makery this summer. Next intervention next Friday.
Get to know more who is Adam Zaretsky by watching a video document of the delivery of the Letter to His Royal Highness Prince Willem-Alexander of the Transgenic Orange Pheasant Project where Adam Zaretsky proposes to His Royal Highness Prince (now King) Willem-Alexander to create a “Royal Dutch Transgenic Breeding Facility” at the Gorleaus Laboratory in the University of Leiden in 2008. These orange pheasants could be intended for the royal hunt: