Eduardo Kac was born a Brazilian in 1962 but moved to Chicago in 1989 to acquire a fine arts masters degree at School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he now teaches with a Ph.D. In the 90s Kac created some art projects using robotics and networking to create "telepresence" art. These projects had a medical angle to them so it was not surprising for his next projects to be considered "bio art" where technology not only extended the abilities of living beings with telepresence but that technology could be incorporated with life its self. A recent project brought his bio art to the world news in the form of a genetically altered rabbit that glows under a black light due to jellyfish genes added at the request of Kac. The laboratory that made the rabbit then refused to give the rabbit to Kac as a pet as was the plan adding fuel to the media flame.
In an interview with Eduardo Kac ("One on One", YouTube links), he suggested that his art is in essence discussions. When he was young, he noticed that there are two ways in which grown-ups controlled him, either telling him what to do "end of story" or to discuss what they wanted him to do and explain why it was to be done and listening to his objections. Discussion then became the means by which changes are best made to society. The projects he has created often involve the manipulation of living things which is termed "bio art" but he prefers to be called, a "transgenic artist." The other common theme is communication which enables discussion.
On November 11, 1997, Kac injected a microchip into his ankle to be the first human to be microchipped. The ankle was chosen as the place where human slaves were tattooed for identification. Within this microchip, is a registration number for lost animals and he posted his name as both the animal and the owner of the animal on the internet registration system. Through media hype, live TV broadcast, and internet webcasts he brought a connection between the past and the future within the interface of his own body. Included with the project was altered photos of his grandmother's life before the war made to look like memories with sepia tones and presented as back-lit panels like news stations use. The use of the lost animal registry was to show how we are becoming digital entities. the old photographs show how our memories have become digital via photographs and video. The question asked by the artist is whether computers are extensions of humans are have humans become extensions of the computer systems. Like the slaves with ankle tattoos, we are slaves to society through our digital identity with his microchip representing that permanent information connection we are made slaves by. One inspiration for this piece is that his grandmother had survived being in a Nazi concentration camp and had been tattooed with her number. The microchip injection event happened at Casa das Rosas Cultural Center, São Paulo, Brazil and was broadcast live on Brazilian television and over the internet.
Many people believe God has given mankind the animal kingdom to use as they will based on the following passage in the Bible and Torah "Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." To explore that dominion over the animal kingdom, Kac had that sentence converted to Morse code... the first digital code for human communication... then this binary code used to create a genetic sequence of base pairs of DNA. This DNA is then added to the genome of two bacteria strains that are then grown in a petri dish. People can view this petri dish with live bacteria over the internet but at the same time, the ultraviolet light that makes them visible also mutates the genetic code. At the end of the project, the genetic code was turned back to English via Morse code and change had occurred to the original sentence. The two bacteria strains also carry alterations of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), one glows cyan (Enhanced Cyan Fluorescent Protein or ECFP) and the other glows yellow (EYFP). As the bacteria strains interact with each other, some of the ECFP and EYFP genes revert back to GFP. Due to the genetic mutations, some will also lose their ability glow any colors (just the natural pale ochre glow). The question central to this project is whether or not mankind really does have dominion over the animal kingdom. Nature and our curiosity (via the internet-controlled black light to make the bacteria glow) destroy the alterations we have made to the bacteria strains and thus our claim to have dominion is also destroyed. I was reminded of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment where the cat goes in the box alive but the box will kill the cat if the lid is opened so the cat will eventually die of starvation unless we look in the box. Is the cat alive or dead? sort of both. In this case, the artist put our God-given dominion over life into the box of genetic evolution and as we look into it via the black light we are destroying that dominion but nature is also destroying it too much like the starving cat.
Parts one and two of an interview with Kac on the show "One on One"
both parts are embedded on this site
or viewed directly on YouTube
A biography of Kac
"The Metaphormatted Human: Bio-Artistic Practices of the Human Nexus" by Thierry Bardini & Marie-Pier Boucher