- GFP Bunny
The author describes his transgenic artwork GFP Bunny and discusses the theoretical and practical implications of creating a new mammal in the context of art. Weaving together insights from philosophy, molecular biology, natural history, cognitive ethology and art, the author places primary emphasis on the welfare of the transgenic rabbit he has created. The author rejects biological determinism and states his goals of developing a dialogical relationship with the bunny based on love and care.
My transgenic artwork GFP Bunny comprises the creation of a green fluorescent rabbit (Color Plate A No. 2), the public dialogue generated by the project and the integration of the rabbit into a social environment. GFP stands for green fluorescent protein. GFP Bunny was realized in 2000 and first introduced to the public at large in Avignon, France. Transgenic art, I have proposed elsewhere , is a new art form based on the use of genetic engineering to create unique living beings. This must be done with great care, with acknowledgment of the complex issues thus raised and, above all, with a commitment to respect, nurture and love the life created.
I will never forget the moment I first held the bunny in my arms, in Jouy-en-Josas, France, on 29 April 2000. My apprehensive anticipation was replaced by joy and excitement. Alba—the name given to her by my wife, my daughter and me—was lovable and affectionate and an absolute delight to play with. As I cradled her, she playfully tucked her head between my body and my left arm, eventually finding a comfortable position in which to rest and enjoy my gentle strokes. She immediately awoke in me a strong and urgent sense of responsibility for her well-being.
Alba is undoubtedly a very special animal, but I want to make clear that her formal and genetic uniqueness are but one component of the GFP Bunny artwork. The GFP Bunny project is a complex social event that began with the creation of a chimerical animal ("chimerical" in the sense of a cultural tradition of imaginary animals, without the scientific connotation of an organism having a mixture of cells of different species in the body) and that also includes at its core: (1) ongoing dialogue among the public and professionals in several disciplines (art, science, philosophy, law, communications, literature, social sciences) on the cultural and ethical implications of genetic engineering; (2) contestation of the alleged supremacy of DNA in creating life in favor of a more complex understanding of the intertwined relationship between genetics, organism and environment; (3) extension of the concepts of biodiversity and evolution to incorporate precision work at the genomic level; (4) interspecies communication between humans and a transgenic mammal; (5) integration and presentation of GFP Bunny in a social and interactive context; (6) examination of the notions of normalcy, heterogeneity, purity, hybridity and otherness; (7) conceiving a nonsemiotic notion of communication as the sharing of genetic material across traditional species barriers; (8) public respect and appreciation for the emotional and cognitive life of transgenic animals; (9) expansion of practical and conceptual boundaries of art-making to incorporate life invention.
Glow in the Family
Alba the green fluorescent bunny is an albino rabbit. This means that, since she has no skin pigment, she is completely white with pink eyes under ordinary environmental conditions. Alba is not green all the time. She only glows when illuminated with the correct light. When (and only when) illuminated with blue light (maximum excitation at 488 nanometers ), she glows with a bright green light (maximum emission at 509 nm). It is necessary to view her through a special yellow filter to see the glow. She was created with EGFP, an enhanced version (i.e. a synthetic mutation) of the original green fluorescent gene found in the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. In mammalian cells (including human cells), EGFP fluoresces at about two orders of magnitude greater than that of the original jellyfish gene .
The first phase of the GFP Bunny project was completed in February 2000 with the birth of Alba in Jouy-en-Josas, France. This was accomplished with the invaluable assistance of zoosystemician...