Gene Craft: Art in the Biogenetic Age opened this week at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) in the UK. Aiming to explore the social, economic and emotional implications of the most recent breakthroughs in genetics, the exhibition features two living art pieces created with human DNA by bioartists Laurie Ramsell and Gina Czarnecki.
After the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved the technology to create “three-parent babies” in the UK last December, many have started to question the broader implications of genetic technologies. The Gene Craft exhibition elaborates on this concept by presenting living artwork that makes visitors imagine a future of bioengineered beings built and controlled by humans.
The first piece is by British artist Laurie Ramsell, who explores the genetic relationship between humans and model organisms. One of them is the zebrafish, which is routinely used in research to understand basic molecular processes that can then be extrapolated to human biology.
Homdanio Birminghamensis is a sculpture taking the shape of a zebrafish embryo made from bacterial cellulose and the artist’s own DNA. The piece was created in collaboration with professor and bioartist Simon Park. As part of the “100,000 Genomes Project“, it is intended to raise public awareness about research into the human genome being pioneered at the University of Birmingham.
The second piece featured in the Gene Craft exhibition is Gina Czarnecki’s Heirloom, a living portrait of the artist’s daughters. Skin cells from the girls are cultured and grown onto glass casts of their faces, creating paper-thin portraits with their own DNA.
Heirloom invites visitors to imagine a future where our own cells are grown on demand for medical applications. But, at the same time, it intends to highlight the ethical implications of these procedures regarding the ownership of our own biological materials.
Gene Craft: Art in the Biogenetic Age will be open until May 13 in Birmingham. During that time, the BOM gallery will host a series of talks and workshops to bring together artists and scientists and discuss the issues raised by the bioart pieces exhibited.
Images via BOM and Gina Czarnecki