Zoo as Real TV
the first week of The Workhorse Zoo, the installation had become a part
of the Global entertainment network, which meant that the Animals (including
the humans) had become another in the long line of Real Television styled,
ironic volunteers in the media war against personal privacy. Like a multispecies
Big Brother, The Real World and Survivor, we
had voluntarily displayed ourselves spread eagle on a non-stop 24-hour
web cam and through personal interaction with the hungry, voyeuristic
eyes of Middle America. We had college level Art, Biology and Psychology
classes, high school and elementary classes, church groups, lawyers
luncheons, art appreciation groups, goth-punk contingents and local farmers
filtering through on a daily basis. There were also rewarding moments
of public purview, mostly when the little children entered the Zoo and
held or fed a lab mouse or a lab frog for the first time. Whether they
would become future Biologists, Bioethicists or VivoArtists or all three
was not up to us. It was a joy to facilitate the interactions.
Zoo Original Concept:
One Large Terrarium able to house a variety of the workhorses of Molecular
Biology together in environment of coexistence and natural integration,
including E. Coli (bacteria), C. Elegans (worm), A. Thaliana (plant),
Zebra(fish), Xenopus (frog), Murine (Mice), Drossophila M. (fly), Homo
Sapiens (human) and Yeast (raw mead).
Outside the terrarium, five to ten small environments display these organisms
separately. This includes InfoBlurbs on their natural history and their
history as industrial critters. Including research into the actual history
of their inception into the halls of science. For instance, E. Coli K-12
came from a human fecal sample, whose? Microenvironments will be particularly
suited for these animals, the Workhorses.
Within the larger terrarium these microenvironments overlap allowing free
range for all the animals to hunt and be hunted in this ‘natural’
setting. The Zebra Fish should enjoy eating the C. Elegans whom, in turn
should enjoy any E. Coli snacks they come across. Xenopus do eat zebrafish.
I guess we will see whether the mice are good at fishing after 150 years
of domesticity. And don’t worry, if the mice starve, the flies will
suck on anything that rots, as will the mustard plants in a more subtle
way (mulch). Eventually I would like to find a way to establish a dynamic
equilibrium between all of the organisms. That seems implausible but at
least I will know how to raise them separately and find time to analyze
their funky temperaments. Perhaps I will enact the quintessential ‘playing
God’ by dressing in a white robe and fake beard and adding food
or more organisms to adjust the balance of power over time. I know two
xenopus will put away fifteen zebrafish in five minutes.
It comes down to a rift between two visions of Nature. One envisions Mother
Nature as a vestal virgin. Clean, untouched and essentially a victim of
human rape. The subtext reads loudly that we are dirty and sinful humans
with our predominant motives being gluttony and destruction. This truth
emphasizes the human destruction of all the gifts that evolution has provided;
we are only destroying ourselves. We are the temporary heads of the food
chain and dealing with the behaviors that got us here.
Another paradigm sees Nature as red in tooth and claw, a beast that maims
and kills indiscriminately. Through the application of our inherited talents
to survive, we will overcome all the trials and tribulations of any chaotic
situation that confronts our precarious situation. We are like a giant
mass immune system ready to battle polio, syphilis and cancer, enemies
of life and joy. In this battle we may have to study all of the possible
problems of life reguardless of conventional moral bias.
Both Ideas presume moral superiority. Both claim to be humane. And neither
is truly represented by the Workhorse Zoo. Instead, as I am curious and
slightly obsessed with the life cycle. Let’s just let it cycle.
In a strange way I think am a demented naturalist, as is nature in many
ways. So, more than any essential anality on either side lets set a precedent
for bioart as a love for slimy, gooey, sticky, pulsating, throbbing, jumping,
flapping, living life.
Public Knowledge Purpose: To introduce the public these particular breeds
in an installation environment. I feel as if the display of these animals,
even the wild types, in a spectator arena is an aid towards intelligent
discussion about animal research, pro or con. These are the organisms
that shoulder the brunt of scientific invasiveness. These are the organisms
whose genomes we search for homologies to assess our own inherited pains.
The public has little or no idea how much the study of these select strains
effects their health and potential physical future.
Personal Knowledge Purpose: To get to know the life cycle and habitat
of most of the major WorkHorses of the Modern Life Sciences. In particular,
the organisms with completed genomes should be in the repertoire. I want
to learn the lab protocols for keeping these funky guys alive. And, I
want to understand the conditions of their environment outside of the
lab as well. I also am not sure of the interactions between these organisms
and look forward to finding out how dynamic this complex semi-closed system
Artistic Purpose: To show an exuberance of life in an environment at once
artistic, scientistic and natural. To compare or perhaps exacerbate the
division between natural and artificial worlds. To compare the concepts
of Nature and Domesticity by a botched version of the wild being presented
under NIH standard biological rules of containment.
- The Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz:
step by step exegesis on what actually happened. Many ethical questions
are left for you to answer. Complex Ethical quandries, quagmires and
- The Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Campus Animal Research Request:
and Legnthy Tome of Email Ethics about Animal Use in Art on Campus.
This is a request to actively research The Workhorse Zoo on SFSU campus.
The Request was directed to the SFSU AICUC. It is long, funny, unedited
and quite telling. The topics are Animal Experimentation, Law and the
Arts. 100 pgs.
For more on Art and Biology Ethics:
The Aesthetics of Care PDF 500k
About Workhorse Organisms:
Bacteria - E. coli
Yeast - C. cerevisiae
Plants - A. Thaliana and Fresh Wheat
Worms - C. elegans
Flies - D. melanogaster
Fish - D. rerio
Frogs - X. laevis
Mice - M. musculus
Humans - H. sapiens
Wolfson, Red Herring on the Zoo
Crispin Sartwell on the Zoo
San Mateo Journal on the Zoo