Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Continuing the GFP bunny discussion

Upon re-examining the Kac webpage and returning to Wolfe's chapter, I want to clarify some of the things I may have hastily asserted in class.

For one, I did not make the distinction between reflexivity and recursivity when I was speaking about how the self-reference of the autopoietic system can be productive. If Kac's work only implied reflexivity, we we would end up with an infinite doubling-back, but recursivity means that the system "uses its own outputs as its inputs" ( Wolfe 161-162). So, Kerri was right that a kind of infinite reflexivity would be something Wolfe may not agree with. Kac's work is "recursive" in this way because he does not have complete control over how the artwork will play itself out; instead, the audience is asked to participate and somehow alter the art system. I"ll get to that more in a bit, when I refer to the "Alba Guestbook"

Second, I think that Dan/Andrew was right that by reducing GFP bunny (or any of Kac's work) to a revealing of a "hidden seediness" behind science, also reduces the artwork to the same dimensions of Coe's work critiqued by Wolfe. I should have clarified that Wolfe is not arguing that the meaning can be reduced to the "revealing" of science's hidden underside, but, drawing on Derrida here, Wolfe claims that the meaning of GFP Bunny is not simply that which is "invisible" in the sense that it is hidden from view (what we are "prevented" from seeing") but an invisible that is "not simply the opposite of vision" (166). Derrida elaborates on this sense of "invisible" in the Gift of Death: "But there is also absolute invisibility, the absolutely nonvisible that refers to whatever falls outside the register of sight [. . .] the encrypted invisible" (Derrida 90).

Its not that Wolfe does not see the visibility as somehow inessential to the work. Rather, like Andrew suggested today, he sees it as a "feint or lure that trades on the very humanist centrality of vision that Kac's work ends up subverting" (164). He goes on to say that, Kac's work makes this all too visible by eliciting and manipulating the very familiar forms and conventions of contemporary visual appetite" (165). So then Andrew is right that in a way the visual spectacle is there to create a "whoa, look at what we can do!" but maybe instead of thinking "whoa look what we can do" its an even simpler "cool!" Indeed, I have to admit that my own fascination with BioArt is not from a commitment to animal rights (or rites) or the well being of animals--it was more simply a "wow that's cool shit, maybe I should look into this more." It's a lure to get people to pay attention, a rhetorical move that draws you in until you realize that there's this whole discourse of ethics, aesthetics, and social interaction involved in this. Its not novelty for novelty's sake. 

From this perspective of the visual as a lure--can we not see these other "works" that we referred to in class today as  possible "kitsch" as part of a similar type of rhetorical strategy? The Rabbit Remix series, first of all, is not BioArt as classified (and I believe coined) by Kac. Kac defines BioArt as art "in vivo," that is, BioArt excludes "art that exclusively uses traditional or digital media to address biological themes" (Kac, Signs of Life 19). That means that such art as Patriccia Piccinni, who may use dead material, but, so far as I know, not living material, would be excluded, as would the projects of CONE (The Cult of the New Eve, part of the Critical Art Ensemble), and Sonia Rapaport's digital proposal for a "redemption" of Kac's Genesis project. These may be "new media" art, but are not BioArt as defined by Kac. We may still ask if art partially created by animals, such as Olly and Suzi's work is BioArt, or if it has to engage in the manipulation of life instead of species interaction. BioArt, according to Kac, also cannot be subsumed in its specificity to ready-mades, conceptual art, situationism, or social sculpture. 

Kac defines BioArt as art that employs these approaches:

1.) the coaching of biomaterials into specific inert shapes or behaviors

2.) the unusual or subversive use of biotech tools or processes

3.) the invention or transformation of living organisms with or without social or environmental integration. 

As a provocative statement, Kac writes, "BioArt does not just create new objects, but new subjects" (19). Inherent in this designation appears to be an assumption that "life" = "subject". Furthermore, this presumes that we know what designates something as "life." Of course, I may be critiquing Kac by using the fallacy that implicit in his statement of Bioart creates new subjects that BioArt is the only art that can create new subjects, which may not be the case. However, if he is implying that this is BioArt's original contribution to the artworld, I'm not quite sure if we should accept, uncritically this view of life. Are the Artifical Life creations of Mark Tilden 'life'? What about the Tissue Culture and Art Project's work? Surely Kac would say that their work constitutes BioArt, but even Catts and Zurr sometimes refer to their creations as "evocative objects" or "semi-living sculptures." What does it mean to create a "new subject"? 

I also looked at the link on the website titled "Alba guestbook," which has some interesting comments from people responding to Alba. I want to comment on two of them. Here's the first one:

I had the misfortune to work with Eduardo a couple of years ago, whilst I was doing my Ph.D. I remember he regularly used to come into the lab, take one of our lab mice out of the cage, beat it to death and eat it raw. He was always going on about how the first thing he would do when he got Alba would be to kill her and have her stuffed. Eduardo Kac is a very, very evil man. I have proof that links him to the shooting of Dan Mcgrew and the Ode to the Haggis. He is cruel to children and it takes him two minutes to make one-minute muffins. He also votes Democraft, and smells. IT he got hold of Alba, he would turn her into weapons of mass destruction and sell her back to the French, who would in turn sell them to the shirt-head ay-rabs in the Middle East. Let that be a warning, fat Yankees.

This is clearly bullshit, but it still was logged into Alba guest book. After reading Kac's statements about the care he took in creating Alba, it is very difficulty to believe this testimony, yet it remains there as part of the dialogic interaction of the audience. 

This next one is in response to someone who claims that Kac assumes that "living under a family is liberating," who also seems to conflate pets and meat by using a "/"

hey Eduardo, why not set yourself free from the expectation that family living is somehow liberating? for who? and from what? you offer Alba patriarchal domination, assimilation into nuclear culture, eventual throwaway in consumer society . . . otherwise why would you need her to be not simply a laboratory freak but also female and a member of a species living on the pet/meat line?

Here is the response--from "Alba": 

Dear Dogirl, I think you're mistaken. Who are YOU to say that this or that family ir more or less liberating? Where did you get this idea from, anyway? Nobody here ever said so. Don't you appreciate the companionship of those who you love? Eduardo does not offer me patriarchal domination, assimilation into nuclear culture, or eventual throwaway in consumer society . The poor guy is just trying to get me home! Do you have a home, dogirl? I don't. Instead, here I'm, in a cold cage, alone, wasting my time responding to these silly neo-marxistoid emails. Where's my carrot?

This is really interesting because someone (we cannot know who) has put themselves in a position to 'speak" for Alba, as Alba, anthropomorphizing her. This writer is probably not Kac himself, since he writes "as we negotiate our relationship with our lagomorph companions, it is necessary to think rabbit agency without anthropomorphizing it" ("GFP bunny"). 

Indeed, this seems to be the goal behind the "Lagoglyphs" series. Here is how the website explains the Lagoglyphs: 

 "Lagoglyphs are a series of 12 bichrome silkscreens created by Kac in 2007 in which the artist develops a leporimorph or rabbitographic form of writing.  As visual language that alludes to meaning but resists interpretation, the Lagoglyphs series stands as the counterpoint to the barrage of discourses generated through, with, and around Kac’s “GFP Bunny.”

The lagoglyphs are the artist's "rabbitographic" form of writing, but writing that cannot be easily translated or interpreted. In a way, then, Kac here is not trying to "speak for" Alba in the same way that the "guestbook" person has tried to do. Here, the visual is used as a rhetorical device that then gets us to think about something other than the letters marked in the same "glow" as Alba. 

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