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Untitled Document

In Gene(sis), science and art converge

01 October 2003


The jury is way out
The solemn fellow above, called “Juror No. 6 (Leopard Spirit),” is one of the 12 digitally manipulated images of hybrid human-animals in Daniel Lee’s “Judgment” series. The haunting dozen represent a Buddhist judge and jury and harken back to Chinese Buddhists’ belief that human traits derive from other-than-human beings.

Photo courtesy Berkeley Art Museum

Gene(sis), an ongoing exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum (through Dec. 7), explores the potential ramifications of human genomic research — but don’t let that scare you. The museum is providing tours led by specially trained graduate students, but even without the hands-on treatment it’s easy to appreciate the whimsical, startling, and even moving nature of these pieces.

According to Associate Curator Alla Efimova, “The works in the show are not about the beauty of scientific imaging.” So, what are they about? The nearly 100 pieces, created by diverse artists employing a variety of materials and media, are meant to provoke. Most take a conceptual and fairly experimental approach to illustrate each artist’s response to either the social, cultural, or ethical implications of genetic modification.

One exhibit in the show uses actual live bacteria, an element that required the museum to get clearance from the campus Environmental Health and Safety office before it could be displayed. Another work, Eduardo Kac’s “Alba,” is a photograph depicting a transgenic animal, an albino rabbit crossbred with a Pacific Northwest jellyfish that glows green under certain intense ultraviolet light — far from typical museum fare.

In addition to the BAM exhibit, a constellation of related events has been put together for those wishing to delve deeper into the thorny subjects pondered therein, including a lecture series and a film series at the Pacific Film Archive, called “Genetic Screenings.” For information, visit www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibits/genesis/index.html