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Workhorse Zoo

in Collaboration with Julia Reodica



Art and Biolab









Workhorse Zoo Gallery

Workhorse Zoo as Real TV

Workhorse Zoo Recipes

Workhorse Zoo Architecture


Within 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, lawyer’s 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.

WorkHorse 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 will be.

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.


Want More:

Read - The Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz:


A step by step exegesis on what actually happened. Many ethical questions are left for you to answer. Complex Ethical quandries, quagmires and quizzicalities.



Read - The Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Campus Animal Research Request:


Angry 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:

Download The Aesthetics of Care PDF 500k


More 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

Other Links:

Wendy Wolfson, Red Herring on the Zoo

Crispin Sartwell on the Zoo

San Mateo Journal on the Zoo