Molecula Menssagem: A conversation with Eduardo Kac (2015)
Communication is the core of everything that entangles Eduardo Kac’s remarkable (soon to turn) four decades of work, from Movimento de Arte Pornô’s defiant use of collective porno-dada against Brazil’s oppressive dictatorship in the early 80’s, to the zero gravity CNES/ISS conceived Inner Space in 2017, Kac’s strategies to deliver rich aesthetic visions have been effective at establishing proper conditions to challenge and subvert the limits of human intervention and interaction, often tied with an omnisensorial approach and the always morphing cultural elasticity of advanced technologies.
Taking a deep dive into the meticulous attachments of Kac’s visual archives, ideas and conversations becomes then, a crucial movement to understand the elements that interconnect his contagious practice. the early holopoems, xerox traces, fanzines and 3D graffitis were a clear prefiguration of the post-digital contexts and transgenic ramifications that his projects would embark on in a pre-data future to come; but above all, is important to recognize how his highly trained poetic abilities engaged public conversations towards a new compendium of textual eruptions, a compendium that radically changed our relationship with the so-called natural world, and also unveiled complex intersections between the digital and the organic in the xxist century: interspecies, biobot, telebiopresence, scriptogenesis, biotelematic, molecular semantics, biotope, net ecology, chimeric gene, xenographics, plantimal, tissue text, microbot, transgenic life, etc.
Perhaps the best way to have a vertebrate projection of Kac’s pioneering legacy into the next years, is to look at his statements as a continuum feedback worth of our attention, with the premise that everything changes and transforms:
the seeds of Edunia (a plantimal made with genetic engineering technologies that expresses Kac’s dna in the form of red veins) are still alive and stored in the seed-packs made for them to be distributed and planted; Time-Capsule, (a microchip inserted inside Kac’s body) envisioned the unexplored possibilities of biotechnology and the permanent need of storing memory expansion; the 20 points established in Biopoetry, a text that proposed innovative ways to compose poetry in vivo are yet to be explored by future generations of exo-readers; Genesis, the ultimate translation enterprise in transgenic art (a clever dialogue and exchange between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the internet) paved debates on the human centered perspectives over nature; Space Poetry discovered a new space culture and the potentialities of creativity in new weightless environments; and, what would happen if GFP-K9 (a pre-Alba project that involved the creation of a genetically engineered dog called “g”, that Kac couldn’t make at the time due to constraints involving the whole mapping of the dog genome, unavailable at the time), revamped as a new provocation for the end of this decade?
For this conversation originally recorded in 2015, Kac talks about the relationship between art and new technology (a question he asked Nam June Paik in 1988), nature as the laws of physics, communication as a fundamental process of life, Biopoetry and the living as a medium of writing, the transition from preoccupation to open incorporation of GFP Bunny [aka Alba, the green fluorescent bunny] in popular culture and the evolution of bioart since Eduardo coined the term in 1997.
In 1988 you interviewed Nam June Paik [Satellite Art] via telephone, for that interview you made an introductory text to describe his work: “In his search for an art that expresses contemporary life in the age of media, he blurs the distinctions between telecommunications and the visual arts; ancient and electronic forms; folk art and high art; East and West; design and beaux arts; objective and subjective time.”
The first question you asked him was “The relationship between art and new technology is as old as art itself. How do you see this relationship?”
Now, I want to ask you the same question, 27 years later.
The only thing that is constant is change, art changes, technology changes and opens up continuously new possibilities for artists and poets.
We forget that the pencil was a technology, we forget that oil painting was a technology, because it gets used so much, it gets incorporated into the larger vocabulary and we tend to no longer see it as a technology, we can’t fetishize technology, we can’t only consider technology as something that is new and that we don’t know anything about.
Technology is a whole gamut of material production, all art has engaged technology.
The real issue in my opinion is the resistance to change that many have, because technology has always been a part of our making, when somebody at some point in prehistory looked at the flower and had the idea of making pigment out of it, that was technology, the real issue is this increased resistance that one has to new possibilities.
I think the emphasis in regards to technology has to be in remaining open, in preserving this drive, this urge, this desire to explore, to navigate and to invent new realities, to me that’s what technology enables.
I want to talk about the conceptions of -nature- in your work, your projects are constantly challenging these conceptions, such as the idea of a pristine-nature constructed by life sciences and it’s interventions.
How do you conceive the word -nature-, and what would be its interpretation and influences by techno science developments?
To me, nature basically means the laws of physics, they regulate the material interaction of the world. In a sense everything falls under the laws of physics, which means that everything that falls in the laws of physics is natural.
Evolution did not make a green glowing rabbit, but the laws of physics allow a green glowing rabbit to exist, my work in that sense is not more or less natural than the particularly random direction that evolution took.
In several interviews you’ve said that communication is the core of everything, even in non-related areas of study in which communication is not formerly applied. Genesis is the perfect example of communication as core, but is also an example of the challenges of interpretation of information and the risks of translation.
What do you think about the human interventions of external information into -natural- information?
That is going to change the way we understand life?
First of all, I think is important to clarify what I mean by communication.
Communication for me is not an act of transmission of information, is a situation in which an opening is produced that interaction is possible, that intersubjective exchange is possible, is this opening between two individuals or more, and the fact that this opening preserves a sense of responsibility that is not only mutually in the relationship, but also in the sense of response, in other words, is not an opening that flows in one direction only, and by not flowing in one direction only, it has a transformative power, which means that you may not be the same person after this communication experience.
This is what I’m interested, and I believe that this phenomenon is fundamental to life, in fact, is the coming together of disparate parts, is the material communication of things that were once separated that made life possible in the first place, that made the first organisms possible in the first place and it is the interaction among these organisms, for example the exchange of molecules, the exchange of DNA that has made all life possible.
I see communication not only as the use of words to tell somebody something, I see it as a fundamental process of all life.
In light of this particular understanding of life I think that we have a serious misunderstanding about ideas of translation and communication, for example think of an olfactory experience, when the molecule enters your nosetril and attaches itself to the receptors in the back of your nose, that’s pretty much the end of the journey of that molecule, but upon contact with the receptors a reaction is triggered that produces an electrochemical reaction which in the brain produces a sensation, so you have the thing in the world, you have a molecule that attaches itself from it, you have the contact between two things (the molecule and your body), you have the translation or the chain reaction of that molecule into something else (this electrochemical reaction), and then you have a sensation.
What is this?
Is this translation?
What is this phenomenon?
This happens all the time, everything gets transformed into something else, my words right now are not entering anyone’s minds in the same manner that I order them, everything is continuously transformed. This is why I said in the beginning of our conversation that change is the only constant.
In the book Cybertext Yearbook you wrote a chapter called Biopoetry, in this essay you described the migration to poetry from “material” formats to poetry in vivo, specifically you propose the use of living organisms as a new realm of verbal creation.
What is the intention and consequences of the techno- dissemination of poetry in these new modalities?
In the context of Biopoetry in particular, what is at stake is the recognition that the living is now a medium for writing, that’s the fundamental recognition, not in a metaphoric way, not in an allegorical way, not in a representational manner, literally that is we can now create poems. We can now create works of literary value that are meant to be read by humans and sometime by nonhumans as well, and we can create these works of literature using living tissue, using DNA, using organisms of different kinds, we can use the processes of molecular biology as a writing medium.
What kind of interpretations and impacts are the most impressive for you 15 years after the project GFP Bunny?
Is Laloglyph Animation a response to that era in which people were really worried about the Bunny?
The laloglyphs aren’t a response to the early days meaning say between 2000 and 2010, for about ten years people remained very worried and then suddenly they weren’t anymore. During this period more or less about 2000 to 2009 I produced a series of works that engaged with the response that the work received, which was primarily based on these preoccupations and fears that people had, but suddenly this started to change. Then you see writers such as Michael Crichton who wrote Jurassic Park or Margaret Atwood who wrote Oryx and Crake incorporating the bunny in their novels, you see different types of response, for example the bunny was in Sherlock Holmes season 2, it was also in The Big Bang Theory season 6, these are responses that aren’t an expression so much of fear anymore, they’re expressions on the fact that the bunny has become an icon in its own right, and that is a different type of response, is a different moment in the development of the work and that is so, but the amount of writing in response continues to grow.
The laloglyphs are more a response to this new phase, the second phase in which the bunny is no longer an object of concern, but rather a conduit to different insights and is also a reaction to the fact that a huge amount of discourse has been produced, so I thought that it would be interesting for the bunny to respond, even though she’s no longer alive, even though this response is vicarious, but it would be interesting for the bunny to produce this visual language, that was rabbit-like, and the laloglyphs are a series of works that are based on that.
Artists like Heather Dewey-Hagborg have showed in her projects different preoccupations not just criticizing techno science but also genetic surveillance.
In your perspective what has changed in the way in which artists understand and apply Bioart?
Bioart has changed dramatically since 1997 when i coined the term, we are getting closer to the 20th anniversary of Bioart, and in the beginning we were about a handful of artists working on this area, now you have countless books, and symposia, and dissertations and exhibitions, it’s a developed field that continuously expands, which means that there is room for all kinds of approaches, and Heather who is a colleague of mine in Chicago has this political angle that she is interested in exploring, is a testament to the richness of Bioart that it can have a more poetic approach, or a more political approach, or a more performative approach, we have all these different voices that can be equally expressed in the movement.