INTRODUCTION REVIEWS THIRD MODERN DOCTRINE [Rus] ART AND SCIENCE
Overcoming any borders, be they external borders or one's own, is invariably accompanied by a feeling of their other predestination. The matter seems to lie not even in the fact that man in himself is a creature implicating restrictions, and only through it and thanks to it he can overcome them - it is rather that while leaving a border one always approaches another border. In the long run, by repeatedly reproducing the border situation, the man rather ritually recreates the only verge, a reminder-verge, over which he - a being formed within the framework of his heredity flow - is initially denied possession of power. Namely, he cannot possess power over the borders set by his birth and death… Nothing can bring out this essentially simple speculation better than issues of time and technologies that claim abolishment and removal of time constraints. The pioneering direct manipulations in this field, performed via bio- and genetic technologies, definitely belong to the most significant milestones of the current era and are an important step forward in the development of the general theme of "borders" within European cultures, and a new subject in the exploration and realization of this theme. Never before, it seems, has the price of such research been so breathtakingly high: man begins to reshape himself according to his own conceptions. By decoding our biological structure and learning to alter it, we gain power over our own evolution. We start traveling into the unknown …
We can but wonder at how powerful an impetus towards the biologization of the concept of man has been supplied by molecular genetics and related technologies. Today, man's biologization is ready to be picked up not only by the partisans of genetics who are optimistic about its progress, but also by those who are following it with concern, appealing to rude materialism as an argument: they say there is just one step between decoding of the genome and the Frankenstein phenomenon, hence our fate will soon be in his hands. Irrespective of the emotional pole, both pose a lot of questions. Will mankind, after millenniums of dependence upon nature, take its fate into its own hands now? Could it turn out that man's life is a mechanistic execution of the program recorded in the genes? How in general are we going to substantiate the concept of man in the future? "Man is what his genes prescribe: sequential compounds of adenine, cytosine, thymine, and guanine …" Happiness, talent, personality and intellect are replaced by "genetic shopping"; and the outdated dispute between those who, in the tradition of classical enlightenment, praised self-determination, and those who were tracing social determinism everywhere, has exhausted itself once and all. An odd mixture of Christianity and digital euphoria, some sort of computer-based piety brings together the heralds of the Wonderful New World. Even if the wave of emotions has been carefully kept high over the last couple of decades by some PR-strategists, even if this play is dominated by marketing and the struggle for power, we can not deny the fact that the development we are witnessing is the very biotechnological revolution so much anticipated by society at the end of the 20th century. Can anyone else, besides us - living here, in Russia - know better how powerful an emotional surge accompanies such epoch-making events?
Among the most illustrative examples of ousting the genetic engineering technologies into an area of chaos and a potential calamity are the terrifying stories, emerging from time to time, of all sorts of malformations, giant embryos and other abnormalities that hardly have anything to do with reality. Such stories are always accompanied by apocalyptic fears of certain powers willing to bring the whole of mankind under control, exercising all sort of "adjustments" and "reduplications" of people, altering their cultural values, and their psychological and physical structure. We must note that the mass media, which make an ideal mythological machine, gladly add the informational fuel to the fire of the Philistine mind. Thus, all worldwide information channels periodically broadcast reports that confirm the worst fears of those who have always opposed cloning techniques anyway: the latest of such reports announced the birth of the first cloned child in the laboratory of the ClonAid company.
The other pole of the attitude to bio- and genetic engineering technologies results in placing them in the area of good, light and bright prospects. In the spring of 1997 people around the world were informed that from that time on mammals could be cloned using nucleus transplantation techniques. By transferring the nucleus of a mature cell into the ovum ablated from its own nucleus, the team from the Genetic Research Department of the Roslin Institute in Scotland managed to grow an identical living organism - the widely known Dolly. Inasmuch as the techniques tested on the lamb and her numerous precursors allow for the production of clones of mature organisms (although with multiple deviations in the course of pregnancy), the scientists came to the conclusion that in principle the techniques used can be applied to human beings. This means at least that the human mind has reached a threshold in the new era of its existence, when we can seriously explore the issue of overcoming the limits of individual life span.
An integral component of the "life construction plan", under the scientists' own somewhat ironic definition, was contributed by a vast project on DNA sequencing (the so-called 'genome decoding'). In the 50th year since the discovery of the DNA structure the project was announced to have been completed early, with the explored genome fragments constituting more than 99% of it. In the USA Craig Venter and his colleagues in Celera, who competed in the genetic data decoding with the public project on man's genome, outlined quite a bright future for the practical utilization of this data. The first publications in the mass media a couple of years ago or so demonstrated the general confidence of success: the US President even stated that genome decoding is "the most amazing map ever made by man". Both journalists and scientists boldly asserted that now genetic diseases will be eradicated, mankind will win a victory over cancer and AIDS, and nothing will hinder the creation of vaccines for any possible disease…
Irrespective of whether or not all of it will turn out to be true (though the majority of scientists tend to think that things are not that optimistic), in case the results of this fundamental research are thoroughly worked over in practice, the utilization of the above-mentioned technologies, together with the deciphering of man's genetic code, may prove a blessing for mankind. We may be able to speak about - as some people are already doing - the stage of an accelerated extension of man's creative potential, and what is more - the extension of its very essence that is dismantling and expanding the borders. Such studies will help to regulate the tremendous chaos of cultural information, navigate it, and supply a lot of new knowledge on the origins and the future of the human race. They will deepen our understanding of the growth and functioning of the human body, and through it - of the acquired individual traits, since the latter are of genetic origin. These biological achievements are sure to put an end to the long anticipation of the fundamental transformation of man's essence, and yield a breakthrough into the spiritual dimensions to freedom and equality…
Such or nearly such is the pathos of general expectations. It seems that once all of it was already promised to man - promised by Christianity. Indeed, the attitude towards bio- and genetic engineering technologies, however strange it may seem, bears much resemblance to Christian archetypes. However, it is not as strange as it seems, since Christian archetypes also constitute a mythological layer of the general cultural perception. What is important, though, is the question of how the concept of bio- and genetic technologies is perceived at the popular cultural - mythological - level. At this level it is filled with implications, contents, and overtones befitting a magic power. In other words, bio- and genetic technologies are interpreted by mass emotional experience as something elusive, not quite clear as to its structure, something that can not be touched or caught, but may facilitate influencing things and people, and even altering their structure and nature. This is where collective fears, euphoria, and fascination come together, not under the "good-bad" or "true-untrue" principle, but according to their origin, that is, their primary source, since all of these phenomena have been generated by the same mythological field. This is what myth is for - to be able to generate cultural and intellectual phenomena, and generally, forms of conduct - of most various aspects - that start operating as elements of the mechanism for the protection of borders which ensure that culture remains true to itself.
One of the tasks of the present edition is to draw the attention of the readers to contemporary art strategies and emphasize their peculiarities against the general background of cultural reflections concerning the development of bio- and genetic technologies. Discussion of these strategies in the single social and artistic context is important in the first place for the prerequisites of the coming-to-be new artistic phenomenon to be recorded in full detail. For a long time now no one has dared to ask the unwanted question as to what is so contemporary about ambient "contemporary art"? What is the difference between this art and, say, mass media or corporate cultural practices? Is it striving to become a trademark, or another type of service offered in the wide market of services of the "genome theatre" where sooner or later the three powerful "Cs" (commerce, competition, and corporation) will assert themselves? We are witnessing today the once radical artistic practices poeticized (in other words - hackneyed and replicated) in culture and mass media. Ideas of social criticism and protection from progress through the ever-growing technologizing (a classical avant-garde project) was in the full scope adopted by the mass media, video and cinematography, which are servicing the society oriented towards a shift in impressions. This is clearly seen in samples of biotechnological themes - the works of genome kitsch have literally swept over television, exhibitions and the press, assuming functions rejected by art long ago. At a certain moment, it became obvious against a background of tumult and outburst of pop culture that if the artist "produces" traditional art, skillfully manipulating the professional and marketable palette, he is not recognized as "a real" artist. In the current environment of the genome culture the subject-matter of interest is focused on the artistic strategies aimed at the prohibition of the de facto art practices, and at transition from concern with the "long linguadiscourse" and the interpretation practices to direct operational activities, where technology is directly linked to the targeted state of the organism, and the whole complex of its mechanisms and the variety of the individual manifestations. Based on that, the main task of the artist of the new era can be worded as follows: stand art's temptation, produce non-art that directly or indirectly provides an artificial support to life organization. In other words, the artistic community faces an advanced challenge of mastering one of the most important aggregate technologies for the creation of bio-temporal presentations of reality, namely - risk management technology. In addition, a peculiarity of the present time is that the advent of the era of "life sciences" heralds the possibility of removing the borders between art and non-art in general, through overcoming perhaps the major obstacle - the verge between the existence and non-existence of man, through overcoming death as such. Considering that art at all times was concentrated on this and only this issue, we can hold that since a certain moment the dispute on the relation of "art" and "life" has been given a countdown, with this couple of words replaced by one notion - "Reality".
In 1998, the molecular geneticist William Gelbart stated in his interview for Science, "The gene is a concept past its time." What could this mean for the public at large whose sphere of interest lies beyond the world of science? First of all, this means that today's society has entered a new, post-biological stage of development of science and technology, which is characterized by the fact that scientific research is now conducted at the nano-level. This also means that a whole series of scientific dimensions, like biomedicine, genetic engineering et al., have outgrown the limits of their field and are ready to become society's aesthetic objects. Thereafter, in the near future we must expect the appearance of artists working with moist media (pixels + molecules) in various social spheres. Leaving aside the exotic sci-art problems and summarizing, one can say that at the next turn of technological development the toolbox of contemporary art will be widened thanks to a large variety of art strategies which will, in turn, put forth a whole list of system requirements towards new technologies of perception. This does not mean, of course, that the audience will change in any way; what will change in the first place is the audience's attitude towards the perceived world, and the viewer will become an active character in the world of artwork and will gain a resource to alter it. Roy Ascott, one of the pioneers of British electronic art, calls such art reality a combination of three VR's: 1) validated reality, based on the reactive technology of Newtonian mechanics; 2) virtual reality, using interactive digital technology; 3) vegetative reality, using a psychoactive "plant technology" based on the principles of ethno-botany. The audience's simultaneous existence in these realities proposed by the artist must develop a certain metanoia in the audience, a "creative schizophrenia," i.e. a state when the viewer would be both inside and outside the image at the same time. Thereby, the advent of the era of Life Sciences indicates a possibility of further dissolution of borders between different states of mind, between concept and construction, between understanding and realization of our everyday wishes.
Translated from Russian by Tatiana Mishunina.