Gene(Sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics

Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics

August 27 through December 7, 2003

Major exhibition, film series, and public programs to
explore artists' responses to human genomic research.

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to announce a ground-breaking, multi-faceted exploration of artists' responses to one of the most compelling social and scientific issues of our time. Five years after the mapping of the human genome, Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics is a thoughtful and far-reaching exhibition featuring contemporary artists' visions of a genetically modified future. With nearly one hundred works by renowned and emerging contemporary artists-including two new works by prominent Bay Area artists Gail Wight and Jim Campbell, commissioned by BAM/PFA-Gene(sis) presents new and challenging perspectives on the impact of human genomic research on our society.

Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics will be accompanied by a wide range of programs, including:

• A film series, Genetic Screenings, featuring some of the more provocative moving-image works dealing with the subject of the human genome. Genetic Screenings begins September 4 and runs through October 30 at the Pacific Film Archive

• An online exhibition, g-commerce, featuring virtual artworks that envision a future in which an increasing variety of genetic materials and services, will be accessible via the BAM/PFA website at

Thinking About Genomics, an important lecture series, and Making Worlds: Artists, Scientists, and Genomics, a panel discussion featuring leaders in disciplines ranging from anthropology and sociology to art history and philosophy.

Information on Gene(sis) and all its related programs can be found on the BAM/PFA website at

In addition to these programs, UC Berkeley Extension and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will offer courses and public lectures in conjunction with the exhibition, greatly enhancing opportunities for increased public understanding and discussion of the subject of genomic research. Genetic Engineering: Who Draws the Line? is a public lecture on September 28 by MIT historian of science and technology Charles Weiner; Biotechnology in the News is a short course addressing issues of biotechnology as they are interpreted by the media; and Imagination, Reproduction, and Evolution: Contemporary Artists Address Genetics is a short course exploring artists' reactions to the scientific possibilities of genetic engineering. Gene(sis): The Art and Science of Genetics will be offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley, and will be taught at the Berkeley Art Museum (more program information below).

"We are delighted to present such an exciting exploration of perhaps the most provocative scientific research to unfold in our lifetime," says Kevin E. Consey, Director. "Through our close ties with one of the world's greatest public universities, BAM/PFA is ideally positioned to examine, through the visual arts, the ways in which the idea of human genomic research has permeated our culture. Artists and filmmakers are uniquely able to transcend science in order to probe its possibilities, question its meanings, and explore its possible outcomes. Gene(sis) and Genetic Screenings, and our rich program of lectures, discussions, and university courses, provide an invaluable counterpoint to mainstream coverage of human genome research."

Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics is curated by Henry Art Gallery Assistant Curator Robin Held and organized by the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, in affiliation with UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and curators Constance Lewallen, Alla Efimova, and Steve Seid. After its presentation at BAM/PFA, the exhibition will travel to the Frederick Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN (January 25 – May 2, 2004) and the Mary & Leigh Bloch Museum of Art, Evanston, IL (September 10 – November 28, 2004).

The Exhibition
Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics
features nearly one hundred works by renowned and emerging contemporary artists including Barbara Bloom, Catherine Chalmers, Jaq Chartier, Eduardo Kac, Daniel Lee, Catherine Wagner and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. From glowing bacteria to "manimals" and genes for sale, each work in the exhibition touches on important issues surrounding the remarkable developments in human genomic research over the past decade. Despite its significance, discussion of the broader social implications of this research has largely been confined to media sensations such as Dolly the sheep, the world's first genetic copy of an adult animal. In Gene(sis), artists present differing responses to genomic science, ranging from hope and optimism to fear, anxiety, and even complacency.

Scientists currently believe that knowledge of the genome will allow us to better predict human health and cure disease. Despite its significance, to date the enormous implications of this research have remained largely inaccessible to laypersons. Taking the lead in responding to these unprecedented technological advances are contemporary artists, whose work transcends pragmatic rationalization and explores instead those areas of knowledge that are perhaps less clearly understood or defined. Works in Gene(sis) engage with emotional effects of cloning, as in the fictional portraits of a woman caring for her younger clone by Margi Geerlinks; genetic engineering, as in the disturbing photographs by Catherine Chalmers of mice used in transgenic experiments; and bio-technocracy, as in the portraits by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle where human likeness is replaced by bland DNA sequencing. The exhibition also poses important questions such as "Who owns your genes?" and "What is the future of genomic research?" demonstrating the ways in which contemporary art intersects with our rapidly changing world.

Gene(sis) includes paintings, drawings, photographs, video footage including documentation of performance works by Critical Art Ensemble, and installation works which incorporate materials ranging from microscopes and Petri dishes to paper coffee cups and frogs preserved in glass jars. A number of works are interactive, allowing museum visitors to influence and observe the process of genetic mutation while they are in the gallery.

The Film Series: Genetic Screenings
Accompanying the gallery exhibition is Genetic Screenings, a thought-provoking series of feature films, innovative documentaries, and experimental shorts focusing on how cultural conceptions of the human genome have evolved within popular media. Film artists have reflected upon genetics almost since the inception of cinema itself. A striking feature of the earlier films-such as the controversial 1932 feature Island of Lost Souls, in which grotesque experiments accelerate animal evolution-was the lack of an informed scientific vocabulary. Later films such as Teknolust (2002)-in which bio-geneticist Rosetta Stone creates three clones of herself, all played by Tilda Swinton-exploit a more sophisticated sense of the genome.

From the phenomenal The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993), a stop-motion animation about a grimy world centered around a genetics lab, to the recent Homo Sapiens 1900, an unusual documentary about the troubling history of eugenics; from Hybrid (2000), a beautifully conceived portrait of a farming patriarch obsessed with corn hybrids, to 1997's drama of a bio-engineered dystopia known as Gattaca, this eight-part series offers genomics as a fluid cultural object, unsettling, beguiling, and always moving through images. Genetic Screenings is curated by PFA Assistant Curator Steve Seid.

New Works by Bay Area Artists
Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics
will feature two new works by Bay Area artists Gail Wight and Jim Campbell commissioned by BAM/PFA. Multi-media artist Gail Wight's new work, Kings Play Cards…, examines the ways in which the effects of the Human Genome Project have reverberated throughout the larger scientific community. The work-a large-scale video installation-focuses specifically on faculty and researchers at UC Berkeley, which for many years has been an international center for genetic research.

Jim Campbell will present a new work, Memory Array, that will be presented in conjunction with Gene(sis) as part of BAM/PFA's acclaimed MATRIX Program for Contemporary Art. Curated by Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, Memory Array looks at how experiences of joy, pain, suffering, enlightenment, and compassion are indelibly encoded in the human brain. Campbell makes a metaphorical comparison between the ways in which both our lives and human DNA can be impacted forever by small, seemingly insignificant changes. MATRIX 208: Jim Campbell Memory Array will run from September 21 through November 16, 2003.

The Online Exhibition: g-commerce
Fascinated with the powerful new language of e-commerce, a number of artists have attempted to take the issue a step further by simulating an electronic marketplace where "neutral" corporate rhetoric smoothes over the most questionable trades. E-commerce is particularly poignant when human genetic material is offered for sale. g-commerce, curated by BAM/PFA Associate Curator Alla Efimova and Digital Media Director Richard Rinehart, looks at the impending future of e-commerce with its increasing variety of genetic materials and services. Is "g-commerce" a reality? Is it our future? What will it look like? Virgil Wong's landmark online project RYT Hospital, the featured work in g-commerce, attempts to imagine such a scenario. It is presented alongside websites of actual biotechnology companies that offer genetic services and products online. The exhibition will also include interviews with the curators and artists-online at

The Public Programs
Why do artists care about the human genome? Why should we? Just as recent advances in genomics have engaged contemporary artists, their impact is also felt on new thinking across a range of disciplines. BAM/PFA's education programs will explore how human genomics intersects with and is shaping not only visual art but also the social sciences, the humanities, and our culture at large.

Making Worlds: Artists, Scientists, and Genomics is a major panel discussion that will bring artists together with noted scientists from UC Berkeley, UCSF, and The Molecular Sciences Institute to discuss the interrelations between art and genetics. Making Worlds will take place on Sunday, September 14, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the UC Berkeley Art Museum.

On Sunday, September 28, BAM/PFA will launch a six-part lecture series, Thinking Through Genomics, which will offer audiences the chance to think critically about the implications of human genomics for anthropology, art history, history, sociology, and philosophy, as well as to hear from a leader in the field of genomics. The speakers for this series include Charles Weiner, History of Science and Technology, MIT (Sunday, September 28, 2 p.m.); Evelyn Fox Keller, Philosophy of Science, MIT (Sunday, October 12, 3 p.m.); Paul Rabinow, Anthropology, UC Berkeley with moderator Paul Billings, co-founder GeneSage, Inc., (Sunday, October 26, 3 p.m.); Barbara Stafford, Art History, University of Chicago (Sunday, November 9, 3 p.m.); Maynard Olson, Human Genome Institute, University of Washington (Sunday, November 16, 3 p.m.); Troy Duster, Sociology, UC Berkeley and NYU, with moderator Richard Strohman, Molecular Cell Biology, UC Berkeley (Sunday, November 23, 3 p.m.).

Pubic programs listed above will also be available for viewing at the BAM/PFA website streaming video archive at

Guided tours of the exhibition will be available on Thursdays at 12:15 and 5:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. presented by UC Berkeley graduate students.

Courses at UC Berkeley Extension and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
UC Berkeley Extension is pleased to offer three special programs in conjunction with this exhibition. Genetic Engineering: Who Draws the Line? is a public lecture on September 28 by historian and philosopher of science Charles Weiner, with reception following. Biotechnology in the News is a short course starting October 2 for the scientifically curious layperson addressing the basic science and issues of biotechnology. Imagination, Reproduction, and Evolution: Contemporary Artists Address Genetics is a short course starting October 11 that explores artists' perspectives on the scientific possibilities of genetic engineering or "composing" biology. For information about these special programs, call (510) 643-0598, e-mail, or visit after July 15, 2003.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which was launched in May 2003, allows adults 50 years and older to enroll in classes taught by retired faculty members. Gene(sis): The Art and Science of Genetics will look at the two-way relationship between art and science, using the Gene(sis) exhibition as a point of departure. Classes will be taught at the Berkeley Art Museum. For more information or to register call (510) 632-4183.

An exhibition catalog is available on CD-ROM at the Museum Store for $24.95. Featuring full-color images, video clips, commentary by artists, and essays by leading scholars and scientists, the Gene(sis) CD-ROM offers in-depth insights into the exhibition and the contemporary debates surrounding human genomics. Call the Museum Store at (510) 642-1475 or visit us online at

Posted by admin on April 27, 2003