Friday, March 9, 2007

Duster: ARTISTS IN THE LABS - space, studio, lab

From: Troy Duster
Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2007 17:00:30 -0500

Imagining and then imaging the outcome of chimeric research as a barrier to permission to conduct such research.

There is both a large body of fiction/literature and a plethora of pictorial images (art/film) of human and non-human fusions that go back for thousands of years. So what makes these last few years special is that we are no longer simply “imagining” centaurs and chimeras. Laboratories are producing chimeras. When review committees consider permitting or denying such research, they must imagine the possible outcomes.

In the early months of 2006, biomedical researchers at Stanford asked approval from the Institutional Review Board in order to proceed with a research project in which they proposed to inject fetal mice with millions of human brain cells. The purpose was to study processes in the developmental brain that might shed light on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The Institutional Review Board approved the research. The chair of the IRB committee later commented to the press – disclosing some of the reasoning behind the decision. He said, “we didn’t see a problem – because once the mice started to act human, the scientists could kill the mice.” This, it seems to me, would/could/should (and inexorably will) animate an artist’s imagination about chimeric research, and what it would mean to conjure up and represent some imagery of a mouse that was “acting human.” What would this be? Envy or jealousy? Compassion or greed or altruism? What might be a behavior that constitutes the image of “acting human?” Attacking other mice when they accumulate more cheese than they need? Accepting that accumulation as the natural state of mouse evolution?

No one knows. Carl Djerassi’s reflections about, and his experience of bridging the worlds of scientific and artistic production might make him especially well positioned to “imagine” such a representation. However, I suggest – depending upon that imagined image – future IRBs could be greatly influenced by it in their gate-keeping decision-making. Building on a wing of Eugene Thacker’s post, the image of the Frankenstein monster has long played a pivotal role in reducing the capacity of scientists to pursue certain kinds of human experimentation, long before IRBs surfaced in the 1970s. Movies like Gattica and novels like Brave New World have played their roles in imagining and imaging a eugenic future. But now we have IRBs. What artistic representation will help shape their cognitive-emotive maps of futuristic chimeras? They will certainly be coming our way!!

Troy Duster

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