Ethics in Art and Science

After briefly reading other blogs in our section, I’ve still failed to understand the logic used in determining Eduardo Kac’s Alba is not a piece of “art”. While I understand Alba is problematic because it’s tied up in debatable and questionable ethnics, I think people are forgetting that its intention is to raise debate and exploit the “tension between art and science”, which it completely does. Another issue I don’t quite understand is the consensus that the use of a transgenic rabbit in art is completely unethical yet in a scientific context it is something to applaud. In supporting animal testing in science, we are affirming that animals can be used as tools to benefit humans. We have already established animals as our own supply of sustenance even though we have discovered sources of healthier protein and amino acids in non-animal products. So if we have already confirmed that it is okay to take the life of an animal for pleasure and to use animals in any means to progress our knowledge in science and medicine, then how is it not the same to use animals as a way to progress our social knowledge? Are we not just continuing along the same path and reasserting the same hierarchical standards? I find it funny how everyone is so disgusted at how Kac managed to engineer/pick out (depending on which source you look at) Alba yet rabbits similar to Alba had previously been produced. For some, by removing Alba from a scientific context, oddly somehow Alba became an exemplification of an artist’s attempt to play god with aesthetics and formal qualities. However, to me, this is so far from the truth and the overall intent of the artist. If by recognizing we have an aversion to Alba as an art piece, we are simultaneously acknowledging that our sympathy only exists for transgenic animals in an art context. However, then, we are forced to step back and reassess the function of transgenic animals in any circumstance. Alba’s role and function regardless of context, be it science or art, will always remain a tool in the hands of humans. It seems almost too perfect that when Kac expresses a desire to take Alba into his family and relocate Alba from an object to subject status, something science and medicine has overlooked with the use animals, he is denied. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the way Alba serves as a reflection of our current state of how we have become so accustomed to using animals for the sake of our own progress and the consequences of that. Alba also forces us to consider how we categorize science and art without logically acknowledging that they are both realized with similar intents. And if we are to be disgusted, we should not look to Kac with anger, but to our society.

Another artist who employs a similar discourse about bioengineering is Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. Just like Eduardo Kac, Piccinini’s art makes us question whether bioengineered organisms should and will exist as subjects and not objects. The exhibition We Are Family which was shown at the 2003 Venice Biennale is an assertion that in xenotransplantation, cloning, stem cell research, and other bioengineering, we are all interconnected living creatures. Particularly, The Young Family, which relates to the process of xenotransplantation where human genes are spliced with animals in hopes of breeding animals with human organs for transplants. The bioengineered human-like sow is delicately crafted with human-like skin, in color and texture, causing an immediate relationship between animal and human. The sad human-like sow with a family of her own to care for is immediately received as a sensitive and emotional creature that deserve the right to “give and receive love”.

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