Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics
In 2000, The Human Genome Project, a public consortium, and Celara Genomics, a private company, jointly announced the completion of a rough draft of the human genome, the molecular blueprint of a human being. Ever since, debates over DNA ownership and personal privacy, therapeutic and reproductive cloning, the future of science as a private venture or public endeavor, and the introduction of new plant and animal life forms have continued to dominate headlines.
From digitally-altered photographs of “manimals” and artistic explorations of other transgenic beings, to DNA portraits and abstract “gene-mapping’” paintings, “Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics” explored the potential social, emotional and ethical implications of one of the most compelling subjects of our times. Organized by the Henry Art Gallery and curated by Assistant Curator Robin Held, “Gene(sis)” was the most extensive exhibition to date to consider these issues from artistic perspectives. The exhibition functioned as a catalyst for a robust schedule of public programs organized throughout the Puget Sound region by the Henry Art Gallery and its community partners.
“Gene(sis)” featured more than 50 works by renowned and emerging artists. It included three new works by artists Jill Reynolds, Paul Vanouse and the collaborative team of Shawn Brixey and Richard Rinehart – commissioned by the Henry especially for the exhibition. These works were created by artists in collaborations facilitated by the Henry with experts in the field of genetics.
Also on view in “Gene(sis)” was a mini-retrospective of work by the artists’ collective Critical Art Ensemble. In the preceding six years, CAE produced some of the most powerful artwork focused on genetics and new forms of representation that emerged from the field of biotechnology. “Gene(sis)” provided the opportunity to present artifacts and documentation from four major performance works, each employing genetic materials and lab practices, and often incorporating direct audience participation.
“Gene(sis)’ – the exhibition and the public programs – was the culmination of a three-year collaborative and cross-disciplinary endeavor involving a working group of artists, scientists, historians, bioethicists, representatives of the biotechnology industry, and museum professionals, all engaged in an ongoing dialogue about the potential impact of current genomic research and development on our understanding of human life and identity. Following its premiere at the Henry Art Gallery, this innovative exhibition traveled nationally to the Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley (August 26- November 16, 2003) and The Frederick Weisman Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (January 25- May 2, 2004).