Special Guest Editor:
Jo Wei (Researcher of Art，Science and Technology at China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Curator )
In her work “Nature?”, Marta de Menezes created with live butterflies, where their wing patterns were modified for artistic purposes. Such artistic intervention leaves the butterfly genes unchanged. Thus, the new patterns are not inherited by the offsprings of the modified butterflies. These butterflies have never existed before in nature, yet will rapidly disappear from nature, not to be seen again. This work experiences the literal meaning of life and death. Her most recent work “Truly Natural” criticizes the stereotypical idea of genome editing, and suggests that humans need to redefine the concept of “natural” and “artificial” in this new technological context.
Although the current discussions are still very much concerned with the distinction between natural and artificial, the ability to control and alter nature by human inventions now makes the distinction among the two increasingly difficult. Crops selecting and animal domestication are effective examples of the long-term selection process of genetic mutations made by humans. The subsequent rise of biotechnology such as genetic modification has delivered characteristics that simple selections are unable to achieve, and genome editing tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 has brought more possibilities regarding the modification of the genomic content of organisms.
“Truly Natural” is more like a conceptual artwork. This work utilizes the technology of CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genome of a naturally mutated organism in order to revert it to the wild type status. The artwork consists in a genetically altered organism with a genome where nothing artificial can be found, as the genome editing was intended to remove the prior genetic intervention. This work creates a tension arising from the idea that a complex genomic intervention can lead to a natural organism, or rather, something simultaneously natural and artificial.
The artist attempts to challenge the relationship between natural and artificial, whether organisms that have been genetically modified are truly artificial creatures. What would it be if it was modified back to “natural” after natural mutation? Through the baptism of technology, did modern humans produce an almost paranoid fear that considers all artificial products as aliens? Is the artificial and the natural each belongs to the bottom and the top of a pyramid? Or, is this pair of concepts competitors on an equalized plane? Or, have they already crossed paths in this new technological era, and have become increasingly difficult to discriminate one against another? These questions are not only about technology, philosophy, but also art.