Misko on Fri, 27 Jul 2001 16:18:53 +0200 (CEST)

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This is a report by Adam Zaretsky on Recombinant I-Ching  which I am
For the interested: see also http://seafair.scca.org.mk/


Recombinant I-Ching
Description: As a group we have created a system of encoding hexagrams from the I-Ching into DNA.  Not only have we 
created a system, we each took turns consulting the Oracle of the Book of Changes to form a group sequence of uncertain fortune.   The artists and compatriots threw coins which were then translated into both divinational text and sequentially recorded chemical amino acids.  The sequence, derived from the universal random luck access point, is now a stable and inheritable sequence in a MC-12 (Macedonian Chi 12 artists) strain of K-12 E. Coli.  (Note to Misko, Transfection which is Novel gene insertion into the microbial organisms should be documented at the lab!)  To sum up, the SeaFair workshop culminates in the construction of a random and collaborative sequence of DNA which is inserted into the K-12 E. Coli genome.  

The involvement of our group of artists in the creation of a sequence to be inserted into an organism is a rather penetrating way to breach the gap between wet lab work and popular conceptions about gene splicing.  I would consider this as a successful immersive educational experience for interested creatives.  A certain amount of education is necessary before anyone can be morally competent to roll an amino acid.  I may have forgotten to mention any of these things during our performative afternoon.  For instance, the knowledge of potentially lethal effects to the transformed E. Coli might make certain people wary.   On the other hand, the devil-may-care attitude of most chance encounters may tell us more than we need to know about situational ethics in a complex world.

For me, this is first and foremost, radical text poetry.  It is a wonderful way to meditate on the role of the arbitrary, in semiotics, in evolution and in human behavior.  Inserting an unknown into an organism sounds more dangerous than inserting what is presumed to be known.  But, as we often find out, the security of our shared knowledge base may just be a cash intensive confidence game made for those who court the firmer firmament.  There is no pretence of security here.  Where is the knowledge base that supports this experiment?  Ask the Oracle of the I-Ching.  Our sequence is a shot in the dark, a gambler's dance.  To me, it seems no more or less dangerous than Nature's effervescent daily mutations.  But Nature is no safety net either.

The randomicity of the code mirrors natural selection as opposed to human dominion over genes.  Random mutation is the other half of natural selection, the irrational half.  The fact that the sequence is determined by luck is a reminder of the unknown, a chaotic force, always at work.  The chances of the random sequence resulting in a wonderful protein that will aid the health of humanity are very slim.  The chances of a dangerous protein that has not existed on this earth before are also near null.  The chances of our sequence even being expressible as a protein are close to zero.  That does not eliminate the statistical chances that the results of our fortune will be negative, positive or indeterminate.  Why would anyone ask the void to intervene without some essential curiosity or even hope for the slim probabilities to usurp the commonplace?  Then again, who can consult the fates without a twinge of fear?  There is no experimentation without risk and there is no gamble wit!
hout the fear of loss.

Just to make things more confusing, I am of the opinion that the choice of whether or not to roll an amino acid is not exactly a choice.  Informed abstinence does not lift responsibility in a game of chance.  Luck itself is influenced by pause.  The tappable void does not rest just for the tentative.  God does play dice, even if we refuse to gamble.  And the beat goes on.  One of the most telling of our group behaviors during the production of our chance sequence is the fact that not one workshop participant declined to play this game of life.  

A quiz for all genetic gamblers: How deeply do you feel you understand what you have been a part of creating?  Are you aware of any responsibilities that come with the permanent living alteration of a hereditary cascade?  How would you analyze the risks and benefits of this art project?  Is there anything unusual about the collaborative method in the creation of mutation?  What do you think the role of chance is in the mysterious final outcome of this expressible sequence?

Please answer these questions and ask more questions and talk about what your Ideas of what we have given birth too are! I truly think that this conceptual art piece is an important and telling symbolic interface between two mutually exclusive worlds.  For instance, we have proved that faith in fortune can influence inheritance.  But for the faithless skeptics among us, coin bouncing chaos can still be seen as having a direct influence on life's variety of forms.   This is a wonderful echo/mirror of the amazing surprise that is life.  It is important that we have your input!

Melentie Pandilovski
Contemporary Arts Center  - Skopje
Orce Nikolov 109, 1000 Skopje
Republic of Macedonia
Tel/Fax: +389.2.133.541
Tel/Fax: +389.2.214.495
Mobile: +389.70.217.075

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