Documents from Adam Zaretsky's Research Affiliation with
the Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the
Arnold Demain Laboratory of
Microbiology and Industrial Fermentation
Statement from 1999-2001:
I have been attempting to determine whether music has
any effect on the growth and/or production of pharmaceuticals by an engineered
strain of E. coli. With only an MFA, this is a vast undertaking, which
is further complicated by my own preoccupations about the near future
effects of genetic engineering on our social milieu. By immersing myself
in the culture of Post Doctoral research with a solid anthropological
fervor, I have both participated and observed the processes by which this
new technology unfolds. I have also refined both my fears and hopes (sometimes
coexistent) of just how far biotechnological alterity has come and where
we may end up going with it.
How does an artist who specializes in automatic noise collage, pluriform
digital media and performative excess interact with the characters, processes,
and organisms of everyday biological research? How do I attempt to ‘do’
science? And how does my artistic process respond to this strange habitat?
Finally, what common ground do we find between the disciplines and what
conflicts seem irresolvable, subject to glorious and interminable debate?
These are the questions that inform my daily life.
On the grand scale, molecular biology is simultaneously seen in Utopic
and Dystopic lights. A great deal of hope is invested in the products
of genetic engineering. Many novel strains of life are being used to bolster
markets like global agriculture, animal husbandry/IVF, drug development
and gene therapy (somatic and germline). The possible elimination of many
inherited or acquired diseases keep a great many suffering people watching
for promising results from recent clinical trials. A great deal of fear
is also cathected to the biotechnological sector. It is not unusual to
confront Biophobic visions of environmental apocalypse or intuit military
applications. To top it off, we are becoming Posthuman and slowly dealing
with the loss of human identity as we had thought we were. It is for this
reason that my hopes and fears coagulate around the central question of
‘What Is Bad Taste?’ as it becomes imbedded in life’s
Scientific and industrial organisms, created for specific utilization
or for the furtherance of comprehension, are also expressions of aesthetic
choices. This is why I feel it is my duty as an artist to learn these
technologies. Instead of phobic reaction, I am attempting to critically
embrace the processes of life’s permanent and inheritable alteration.
New reproductive strategies are opening the doors to rapid evolutionary
trends, nationalized, racialized, popular and corporate. Are there more
aesthetic organisms? The lack of a common global aesthetic and a historical
track record of bad taste (i.e. ethnic cleansing, line dancing, liposuction,
most painting) provides me with the impetus, the eclectic fecundity to
guarantee iconoclasm in a situation which could all too easily lead to
the erasure of the same. This is the impediment and the allure that epitomizes
the crossroad between biology and the arts.
As to the less theoretical arm of my activities, my position at MIT has
been an immersion into the most obscure culture I have yet to encounter.
I have learned to mix my own stock solutions, to run an accurate fermentation
of E. Coli ZK650 and to assay for secondary metabolites (Microcin B17).
I have obtained interesting results from playing Engelbert Humperdinck’s
Greatest Hits to fermenting E.Coli continuously for 48 hours. It appears
that the production of antibiotics may have increased. There are multiple
explanations for this, being narrowed down through further experimentation.
One possible cause could be that ‘The Humperdinck Effect’
is caused by annoyance. Being subjected to loud, really awful lounge music
for two days in a row may bother the cells. Then, they may produce antibiotics
to fight against a perceived threat the only way that they know how. Although
my application of music to incubating cells has the potential to increase
pharmaceutical production world wide, I am more interested in what kind
of music E. Coli prefer and which kind they dislike. If I can establish
a preference, I would consider hosting Cellular Bandstand a syndicated
TV program playing back the hits of the Bacterial Top Forty.
I would like to propose a furtherance of my own knowledge and techniques
towards a long-term yet achievable end; The ability to understand the
processes of molecular and developmental biology as an art practice. If
there will be an intelligent response to the future of industrial ecology
then I would like to be able to be an active part of it. And if the future
of art lies beyond the species barriers which until recently were walled
up by natural selection, I would like to be able to teach this art to
the next wave of the intrigued non-scientists. Whether we are guerrillas
or just curious, there is a subset of the creative universe that needs
to know the inner workings of life.
The techniques that I would like to understand in both practice and theory
(including my own versions thereof) are as follows: Isolation and Culturing
of Embryonic Stem cells, A Deep and Personal understanding of Developmental
Biology especially in the realm of Morphology, Specialization of Pluripotent
Cells into Novel Progeny cells through Addition/Restriction of Expressed
Genes, Nuclear Transplantation of 'choice' cell lines into Enucleated
eggs (i.e. Cloning). This is biological practice and, sans the questionable
logic of the science in question, this is Life in general, both veiled
and unveiled. Since I do not expect to thoroughly know and understand
all of the mysteries in this lifetime, my goals for my next years might
be within the realm of the achievable.