DNA presents a rather striking tension between the preservation of life and its disappearance, also found within a wide range of other areas such as religion, performance documentation or biobanking. However, DNA’s capacity to preserve living matter is often understood as rather trivial naturalism disregarding many imaginary, narrative, performative and ontological contexts linked with it.
We salvage DNA in order to compose mnemonic devices that diversify cultural memory. In our projects DNA stemming from biological relics of “knowing” animals which have been key figures in relevant scenarios within the arts, sciences, philosophy and genetics, i.e. the DNA from Beuys’ hare, Freud’s Chow-Chow, Derrida’s cat, as well as from a laboratory worm. After having engineered a specifically responding synthetic gene from the relics’ and a living host’s DNA, we program interfaces which activate the synthetic gene as an ecopolitical agent. Beyond their historical routines, the synthetic genes now act as living money, as genetic timers, or as spoken microflora, which resist and subvert the commodification of the relic as well as its field of origin.
In Hare’s Blood + we questioned the exploding prices for artworks incorporating animal relics and recalled visions of a counter-economy as emphasized by Joseph Beuys. For Beuys, the hare’s blood embodied a spiritual medium between life and death, capable of navigating between times and contexts. Beuys even explained pictures to a dead hare. For us the blood’s intrinsic significance together with the multiple’s reproducibility fulfilled the criteria of token money as well as DNA.
For our project we opened one of the two hundred multiples in which Joseph Beuys had shrink-wrapped volatile hare’s blood. Cooperating with molecular labs we inserted parts of the blood’s catalase gene, which protects against stress and ageing, into living yeast cells, referencing the rhizomatic structures of fungi. We auctioned this transgenic Beuysian creature, which did not previously exist either in nature or in culture, at the Biofiction Festival in Vienna’s Museum of Natural History.
Through the expression of the Beuys’ hares catalase gene, the programmed interface caused the size of the bids at auction to affect the growth of the yeast. When the actual bids in the room diverged too widely from the streamed livestock share prices, the protecting activity of the synthetic gene declined. Depending on their bids, the spectators saw the artwork aging or even decomposing, with their commercial interest governing its liveness. This ecospecies is capable of genetically processing data in time with Beuys’ economic visions so as to negotiate its existence on the art market. It is now neither merely an object of art nor a symbol for acting out animalism, but instead its genes have become informationally engaged in complex decisions about itself.
When they transfer the historical connection between the animal’s genes and its habitat to the connection between the synthetic gene and an immersive audience, the living recording devices reframe history and make the animal’s past and its present mimic one another. This transference brings forward incomplete memory traces, advances parallel histories, and drafts speculative fictions. The relic thereby becomes an action, emerging from a combination of genetic discursive and immersive factors. Thus DNA engineering eventually becomes a non-trivial task of bringing the past back to life for an unpredictable future.
Klaus Spiess (AT) is a former endocrinologist, psychosomaticist, medical anthropologist and currently directs the Arts in Medicine Program at the Center for Public Health at the Vienna Medical University as an associate professor. He has published his research work in numerous articles on medicine and performance research. For the last four years he has been developing hybrid and immersive art-performances on the subject of biology and medicine together with Lucie Strecker. His works have been shown among others at the Tanzquartier Wien, the Natural History Museum and the 21er Haus, Vienna; Budascoop, Kortrijk, and Tate Modern, London.Lucie Strecker
Lucie Strecker (DE) is a performance artist, stage director and researcher. She has a diploma in fine arts from the Academy of the Arts, Berlin-Weissensee and graduated in stage directing at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. Since 2012 she has been a Fellow of the Berlin University of the Arts, Postgraduate Forum for the Arts and the Sciences. For the last four years she has been developing hybrid and immersive art-performances on the subject of biology and medicine together with Klaus Spiess. She also has been working together with Philip Riera, Superamas, Ann Liv Young and Daniel Aschwanden. Her performances have been shown among others at the Tanzquartier Wien, the Natural History Museum and the 21er Haus, Vienna; Budascoop, Kortrijk; the House of World Cultures, Berlin. She recently has published her work with Diaphanes and Taylor & Francis.
Co-Choreography: Costas Kekis (GRE)
Performance: Evandro Pedroni (BRA), Raphaël Michon (FRA)
Molecular Labs: DNA Consult Reinhard Nestelbacher; Mark Rinnerthaler, Department Cell Biology and Genetics, Salzburg University; Museum of Natural History, Vienna, Laboratory of Molecular Systematics; Genomics Core Facility VetCore, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna,
Interface and Media Design: Norbert Unfug (AT)
Video: Camillo Meinhart (AT)
Sound: David Lipp (AT)
Supported by: Biofaction (EC-FP7 SYNENERGENE), Medical University Vienna, Einstein Foundation Berlin