On The Moon and Beyond - Eduardo Kac, Jacob Ter Veldhuis

A commemoration of the 40th anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon with Eduardo Kac’ and Jacob Ter Veldhuis’ poet intermix of art and science in historic and contemporary narratives of the imagined and man made.



Video still from Jacob TV’s video oratorio, “Paradiso”, video by Jaap Drupsteen

Eduardo Kac, Natural History of the Enigma


On the Moon and Beyond  Art21 Blog - http://magazine.art21.org/2009/09/02/unnatural-histories/#.XvfhWJNKjOQ


June 10 – September 14, 2009: Eduardo Kac, bio-artist and Ars Electronica Golden Nica 2009 winner, and renowned avant pop composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis open at Chelsea Art Museum and at the Streaming Museum the exhibition “On the Moon and Beyond”. Streaming Museum (streamingmuseum.org) is a new hybrid museum that presents exhibitions in cyberspace and public space on seven continents. The exhibition was also presented internationally.

Within the context of the 40th anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, Eduardo Kac and Jacob Ter Veldhuis poetically intermix art and science in historic and contemporary narratives of the imagined and man made.

Eduardo Kac is a Brazilian-born artist living in the US who is known for his 1999 groundbreaking transgenic artwork Genesis, and attracted global attention in 2000 with “GPF” Bunny” known as Alba, the fluorescent green rabbit.   Kac is exhibiting in Streaming Museum a new transgenic work, “Natural History of the Enigma”  – a plantimal called “Edunia”, that is a genetically-engineered flower hybrid of the artist and Petunia. The work is a poetic reflection on the contiguity of life between different species.  In the context of the celebration of man’s first walk on the moon 40 years ago, the philosophy of “Natural History of the Enigma” further stimulates the imagination to ponder what other life forms might exist or be created beyond earth. The work has received the Golden Nica 2009 – the highest award given at the Prix Ars Electronica, the world’s premier cyberarts competition.  Held annually by Ars Electronica, the international center for digital art and media culture in Linz, Austria, it is a barometer of the trends in media art.

Jacob Ter Veldhuis (“JacobTV”), Dutch avant pop composer is one of the most performed European composers with hundreds of performances and broadcasts worldwide each year. He created the video oratorio “Paradiso” with video artist Jaap Drupsteen which premiered under extraordinary circumstances in the Helpman Centrale power plant on September 12, 2001. The third book of the “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri, “Paradise”, was the source of inspiration for this large-scale work for orchestra, soprano, tenor, choir and sampler. Three movements are featured in Streaming Museum which weave Dante’s medieval world-view of the heavens with multi-media samplings of Apollo astronauts on the moon. The oratorio is performed by the North Netherlands Orchestra and Concert Choir conducted by Alexander Liebreich, with Claron McFadden, soprano and Tom Allen, Tenor. Jacob TV is preoccupied with American media and world events and draws raw material from those sources. His work is a colorful mix of high and low culture, that combines an explosive strength and raw energy with intricate architectural design, and incorporates sound bytes from contemporary culture such as political speeches, commercials, interviews, talk shows, Tvangelists.

On July 20, 1969, during the Apollo 11 mission, the human race accomplished its single greatest technological achievement of all time when a human first set foot on another celestial body.  Six hours after landing at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining), Neil A. Armstrong took the “Small Step” into our greater future when he stepped off the Lunar Module, named “Eagle,” onto the surface of the Moon, from which he could look up and see Earth in the heavens as no one had done before him. He was shortly joined by “Buzz” Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the lunar surface and returned 46 pounds of lunar rocks. After their historic walks on the Moon, they successfully docked with the Command Module “Columbia,” in which Michael Collins was patiently orbiting the cold but no longer lifeless Moon. (http://history.nasa.gov/ap11ann/introduction.htm)





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About the artists

"Natural History of the Enigma"

The series: Edunia, Sculpture, Seed Packs, Prints (click here) The Making of Natural History of the Enigma (click here)

Eduardo Kac's website (click here) Selected bibliography (click here) 2009 Exhibitions and Presentations (click here) Prix Ars Electronica (click here)


Eduardo Kac, Natural History of the Enigma, transgenic flower with artist's own DNA expressed in the red veins, 2003/2008. Collection Weisman Art Museum. Photo: Rik Sferra.

Eduardo Kac

The central work in the "Natural History of the Enigma" series is a plantimal, a new life form I created and that I call "Edunia", a genetically-engineered flower that is a hybrid of myself and Petunia. The Edunia expresses my DNA exclusively in its red veins.

Developed between 2003 and 2008, and first exhibited from April 17 to June 21, 2009 at the Weisman Art Museum [1], in Minneapolis, "Natural History of the Enigma" also encompasses a large-scale public sculpture, a print suite, photographs, and other works.


The new flower is a Petunia strain that I invented and produced through molecular biology. It is not found in nature. The Edunia has red veins on light pink petals and a gene of mine is expressed on every cell of its red veins, i.e., my gene produces a protein in the veins only [2]. The gene was isolated and sequenced from my blood. The petal pink background, against which the red veins are seen, is evocative of my own pinkish white skin tone. The result of this molecular manipulation is a bloom that creates the living image of human blood rushing through the veins of a flower.


The gene I selected is responsible for the identification of foreign bodies. In this work, it is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that I integrate into the other, thus creating a new kind of self that is partially flower and partially human.


"Natural History of the Enigma" is a reflection on the contiguity of life between different species. It uses the redness of blood and the redness of the plant's veins as a marker of our shared heritage in the wider spectrum of life. By combining human and plant DNA in a new flower, in a visually dramatic way (red expression of human DNA in the flower veins), I bring forth the realization of the contiguity of life between different species.


Eduardo Kac, Natural History of the Enigma, transgenic flower with artist's own DNA expressed in the red veins, 2003/2008. Collection Weisman Art Museum. Photo: Joy Lengyel.


This work seeks to instill in the public a sense of wonder about this most amazing of phenomena we call “life”. The general public may have no difficulty in considering how close we truly are to apes and other non-human animals, particularly those with which it is possible to communicate directly, such as cats and dogs. However, the thought that we are also close to other life forms, including flora, will strike most as surprising.


While in the history of art one finds imaginative associations between anthropomorphic and botanical forms (as in the work of Archimboldo, for example), this parallel (between humans and plants) also belongs to the history of philosophy and to contemporary science. Advancing notions first articulated by Descartes, Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) already proposed in his book L'Homme Plante [Man a Plant] (1748) that “the singular analogy between the plant and animal kingdoms has led me to the discovery that the principal parts of men and plants are the same.” The preliminary sequencing of the human genome and that of a plant from the mustard family (Arabidopsis thaliana, in the journal Nature, December 14, 2000) have extended the artist's and the philosopher’s analogies beyond their wildest dreams, into the deepest recesses of the human and plant cells. Both have revealed homologies between human and plant genetic sequences.


Thus, the key gesture of "Natural History of the Enigma" takes place at the molecular level. It is at once a physical realization (i.e., a new life created by an artist, tout court) and a symbolic gesture (i.e., ideas and emotions are evoked by the very existence of the flower).

I had a sample of my blood drawn and subsequently isolated a genetic sequence that is part of my immune system—the system that distinguishes self from non-self, i.e., protects against foreign molecules, disease, invaders – anything that is not me. To be more precise, I isolated a protein-coding sequence of my DNA from my Immunoglobulin (IgG) light chain (variable region) [3].


To create a Petunia with red veins in which my blood gene is expressed I made a chimeric gene composed of my own DNA and a promoter to guide the red expression only in the flower vascular system. In order to make my blood-derived DNA express only in the red veins of the Petunia, I used Professor Neil Olszewski’s CoYMV (Commelina Yellow Mottle Virus) Promoter, which drives gene expression only in plant veins. Professor Olszewski is in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN. [4]

My IgG DNA is integrated into the chromosome of the Edunia. This means that everytime that the Edunia is propagated through seeds my gene is present in the new flowers. See diagram here.


The sculpture that is part of "Natural History of the Enigma", entitled "Singularis", is a three-dimensional fiberglass and metal form measuring 14'4" (height) x 20'4" (length) x 8' 5" (width.) It contrasts the minute scale of the molecular procedure with the larger-than-life structure. Likewise, the work pairs the ephemeral quality of the living organism with the permanence of the large sculpture. The sculpture is directly connected to the flower because its form is an enlargement of unique forms found inside this invented flower. In other words, the sculpture is derived from the molecular procedure employed to create the flower [5]. In its hybridity, the sculpture reveals the proximity of our next of kin in the kingdom Plantae.

I used 3D imaging and rapid-prototyping to visualize this fusion protein as a tangible form. I created the visual choreography of the sculpture based on the flower's molecular uniqueness. The sculpture was created with a vocabulary of organic twists and turns, helices, sheets and other three-dimensional features common to all life. The sculpture is blood-red, in connection to the starting point of the work (my blood) and the veinal coloration of the Edunia.


In anticipation of a future in which Edunias can be distributed socially and planted everywhere, I created a set of six lithographs entitled "Edunia Seed Pack Studies". Visually resonant as they are with the flower and the work's theme, these images are meant to be used in the actual seed packs to be produced in the future. In my exhibition at the Weisman Art Museum, I exhibited a limited edition of Edunia seed packs containing actual Edunia seeds.


NOTES

1 - The exhibition was comprised of the actual Edunias, the complete "Edunia Seed Pack" set of six lithographs, and a limited edition of Edunia seed packs with actual Edunia seeds.

2 - The gene of mine I used is an IgG fragment extracted from my chromosome number 2. Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is a kind of protein that function as an antibody. IgG is found in blood and other bodily fluids, and is used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign antigens. An antigen is a toxin or other foreign substance that provokes an immune response in the body, such as viruses, bacteria and allergens). More precisely, my DNA fragment is from my immunoglobulin kappa light chain (IGK) [see diagram]. In "Natural History of the Enigma", the fusion protein, produced exclusively in the red veins, is a fusion of my IgG fragment with GUS (an enzyme that allowed me to confirm the vascular expression of the gene).


3 - For her assistance in drawing my blood, isolating my IgG and cloning it, I owe a debt of gratitude to Bonita L. Baskin, who was, at the time I carried out this work, the CEO of Apptec Laboratory Services, St. Paul, MN. The blood was drawn for "Natural History of the Enigma" on May 13th, 2004 in the premises of Apptec Laboratory Services.


4 - With the assistance of Professor Neil Olszewski, I obtained positive confirmation that my IgG protein was produced only in the edunia veins by detecting the activity of the enzyme GUS (beta glucuronidase), which is fused to the IgG sequence. The detection was achieved through a staining technique.


5 - The sculpture's form is an invented protein composed of human and plant parts. The human part is a fragment of my Immunoglobulin (IgG) light chain (variable region). The plant component is from the Petunia's ANTHOCYANIN1 (AN1), responsible for red pigmentation in the flower. More precisely, AN1 is a transcription factor that controls genes encoding the enzymes that produce the red pigments.


Special Thanks

At the University of Minnesota, I would like to extend a very special thanks to Dean Robert Elde, College of Biological Sciences; Jane Blocker, Associate Professor of Art History; Jeffrey Kahn, Director, Center for Bioethics and Professor of Medicine; Jenny Schmid, Assistant Professor of Printmaking; Neil Anderson, Associate Professor of Flower Breeding and Genetics, Department of Horticultural Science; Douglas H. Ohlendorf, Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, College of Biological Sciences/Medical School; Rebecca Krinke, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Landscape Architecture. At the Weisman Art Museum, thanks to Lyndel King, Director and Chief Curator; Diane Mullin, Associate Curator; and Craig Amundsen, Public Art Curator and program manager. In my studio I'd like to acknowledge Wonbin Yang. Also, a very special thanks to Shelly L. Willis, who was, when I started to develop "Natural History of the Enigma", the Public Art Coordinator at the Weisman Art Museum, and now is the Public Art Administrator for the city of Sacramento, CA.

Jacob Ter Velduis Jacobtv.net

Born in 1951, Jacob ter Veldhuis has become one of Holland's most frequently commissioned and performed composers, and he has done so by going his own way, bucking the prevailing European style. Ter Veldhuis was awarded the composition prize at the Conservatory of Music in Groningen, where his training included flute, French horn, and electronic music. All the while, he continued playing in various rock and roll bands. Having grown up amid this plurality of musical styles, he is equally comfortable referencing "high" and "low" culture in his works, and he finds provocative ways to do so.


Fed up with the "doom and damnation" that he perceived in so much contemporary art, ter Veldhuis had an epiphany in the 1990s. He wrote: "From Euripides onward, conflict has been seen as a precondition for a work of art. . . Art became progressively more conceptual and harder to swallow. Artists sometimes behaved like preachers, shouting hell and damnation from the pulpit. Art is supposedly able to transform suffering into beauty. But what is beauty? The lust for dissonance in contemporary music is hardly what I would call 'aesthetically pleasing'; dissonance has, in my opinion, been totally devalued as a manner of expression."


Ter Veldhuis's works are concerned with the quest for beauty, often described in visual terms. The music of the Rainbow Concerto for cello and orchestra is, in the words of musicologist Michael Arntz, like "an intangible bridge between heaven and earth." The composer himself describes the Tallahatchie Concerto as a journey down a river of rocks (the Native American meaning of "Tallahatchie"); and the Goldrush Concerto incorporates the world of film into its depiction of the all-consuming search for gold.


The largest embodiment of this tonal and visual aesthetic is Paradiso (2001), a 13-movement, multimedia video oratorio based on sections from the third book of Dante's "Divine Comedy," boldly juxtaposed to imagery from modern life. The score calls for soprano and tenor soloists, female chorus, full orchestra and electronic sampler, all performed in tandem with a striking video by the innovative video graphics team Pulsatu. After much soul searching, Paradiso had its premiere, as scheduled, on September 12, 2001 with its two American solo vocalists. "An essential aspect of Paradiso was mankind's inability to reach paradise. Under these new circumstances, it could perhaps offer some solace in these dark and confusing days."

The overwhelming response to Paradiso echoed the sell-out crowds at a four-day Jacob ter Veldhuis Festival held earlier that year in Rotterdam. Highlights of the festival included the dynamic Goldrush Concerto and the String Quartet No. 3, "There must be some way out of here," from which the string orchestra work of the same name is arranged.

For more information and a complete list of works, go to the composer's home page. (click here)

Video still from video oratorio, "Paradiso" by composer, Jacob Ter Veldhuis, video by Jaap Drupsteen, 2001. Courtesy of the artists.


______________________________________ ART 21 PRESS RELEASE Unnatural Histories

by Dehlia Hannah | Sep 2, 2009






“On the Moon and Beyond” June 10-September 14 2009, Courtesy of the Streaming Museum. “Natural History of the Enigma” transgenic artwork by Eduardo Kac. Selections from video oratorio, “Paradiso” by avant pop composer, Jacob Ter Veldhuis, video artist Jaap Drupsteen.

Forty years ago Americans watched in awe as a spectacle of scientific achievement unfolded on their television screens. From the comfort to their 1960s living room sofas they watched as astronauts bounced over the surface of the moon and issued eloquent exclamations at the human capacity to transcend the physical and imaginative horizons that bound our recent ancestors. While the Apollo 11 mission is now remembered much more for its political value in demonstrating American technological dominance over the Soviet Union than for any great contribution to scientific knowledge, the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing has renewed flagging enthusiasm for scientific endeavors whose main purpose is to set new frontiers for the pursuit of scientific glory.


In projects like the proposed colony on Mars, in which a great boondoggle is reincarnated as an end in itself, science seems to verge on becoming art. The transfiguration is rendered complete in the video exhibition “On the Moon and Beyond” that is on view until September 14th at the Streaming Museum, Streaming Museum the web-based gallery of the Chelsea Art Museum’s Project Room. What intrigues me about this exhibition is how it retrospectively renarrates the moonwalk of 1969 as a performance artwork, and thus implicitly asks whether it wasn’t always, on some level, a kind of moon dance.

“On the Moon and Beyond” mixes selections from Dutch composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis and video artist Jaap Drupsteen‘s video oratorio, “Paradiso”, a composition based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, with images and text from Eduardo Kac transgenic artwork “Natural History of the Enigma” (2009), which was on view at the Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota from April 17th to June 21st. Kac is well known for his work with genetic engineering, most famously, for “GPF Bunny” (2000), an albino rabbit that was genetically modified to express a jellyfish protein that glows fluorescent green under black light. The work provoked heated debate about how far we should go, as artists or scientists, in altering natural phenomena for our own purposes. As an artwork, Alba the fluorescent bunny functioned as a magnet for widespread anxieties about the development of transgenic mice, rats, bacteria and other organisms used in biomedical research and agriculture.

Kac’s new work, a transgenic petunia that expresses a DNA sequence derived from the artist’s own blood aptly named “Edunia,” is technologically impressive, but visually understated by comparison. The audacity of Kac’s transgression of species – and indeed higher taxonomic boundaries – is rendered palpable, however, by its framing between film footage of Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin shifting the global balance of power and uttering the words that would later prompt one critic to call Alba a “great hop for mankind.” Art and science find shared purpose here in pursuit of the narcissistic sublimity of gazing upon the enormity of our own achievement.

Eduardo Kac, "Natural History of the Enigma," transgenic flower with artist's own DNA expressed in the red veins, 2003/2008. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum. Photo: Rik Sferra

We won’t have another opportunity to view the Edunia ‘in the petal’ because all of the plants, along with the live seed packets that formed part of the Weisman exhibition, were to be destroyed as an environmental hazard on the orders of the National Institute of Health. Just as Kac was accused of faking the surviving images of Alba, there have been sustained efforts to prove that the moon landing was a cinematic fabrication. As the music reaches a crescendo in “Paradiso” and astronauts are resignified as angels, “On the Moon and Beyond” prompts the question, what does it mean to ‘believe in’ science? – literally, to believe that astronauts landed on the moon, or that Kac actually engineered his organisms, and, figuratively, to place our hopes, our trust, and our faith in expanding the horizons of our mastery of inner- and outer-space?


Eduardo Kac, "The Making of The Natural History of an Enigma", 2008 Courtesy of the Artist

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