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<nettime> (transgenic tomb) stoners interviewed
cloudy on Sun, 10 Oct 2004 12:51:59 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (transgenic tomb) stoners interviewed

just put an interview with Biopresence up here...
praps of interest?


DIY DNA DAY - if you missed it, was on April 10th and celebrated at a UK 
conference with a wide range of biotech and transgenic art demonstrations 
and tutorials. Aside from learning how to extract your own DNA, or the DNA 
from anything living, attendees were also introduced to a new way for 
remembering those who have passed away - storing their DNA within a living 
plant~! Believing that 'a growing, living tree has the ability to comfort 
in a completely different way than cold gravestones', Georg Tremmel and 
Shiho Fukuhara of Biopresence ( http://biopresence.com ) were happy to wax 
on about their 'Transgenic Tombstones':

  >How much do you think DNA is meaningfully coiled up in our identity?

GT: DNA should be seen as a pointer to a person, rather than a blueprint 
for a human being. What makes a human, and therefore identity, largely 
depends on the environment and experiences. The true power of DNA lies in 
its ability to bring together the symbolic and the real.

  >What triggered the idea to try and make 'Transgenic Tombstones'?

GT: We were interested in exploring hypothetical design possibilities 
offered by biotechnologies. Thinking about code, codes, and codecs, their 
many manifestation came somehow naturally. It was only later we started to 
explore the mystical and psycho-historical connections and connotations of 
life, death and trees.

SF: My cat was buried in the garden in Tokyo where my family used to live, 
as he loved that house and garden so much. I'd much prefer to be buried in 
my family garden, rather than somewhere far away from them, and a tree is 
better than a gravestone in the garden. Our project reminds me of an old 
Japanese tale about cherry blossoms (sakura), which are white with a touch 
of red. Allegedly the reason for this colour is a person buried underneath 
the tree, his blood makes the cherry blossoms red.

  >When do you predict being able to offer DNA blended memorials?

GT: We are at currently at stage 2 of the project. Thanks to support from 
NESTA (www.nesta.org.uk) we are currently able to concentrate fully on it, 
and are exploring and assessing the legal implications that come along 
with our trees. We hope to offer Biopresence trees within the next 18 
months, but I am not sure, if it will be in the UK.

  >What sort of genetic background did you have, and what've been the 
biggest hurdles for your learning?

GT: I have some a basic knowledge of genetics, I did study biology and 
informatics for a little while before studying media art. I think the 
hurdles in learning are not that big; much bigger are the hurdles in 
communication. After all it seems that artists and scientists seldom live 
on the same planet.

SF: It can be a little frustrating, if scientists don't even try to 
understand what we are trying to achieve - they never ask us what we are 
doing and why we do it. I wonder if they don't think this kind of question 
should be made before they criticise with a little (or even wrong) 
information on papers?

  >How has the scientific community reacted to your work?

SF: Some get it instantly, some don't. Nearly all the scientists we were 
able to speak to directly reacted in a positive way. Even if they 
sometimes did not see the point of our project, they were curious about 
the technical details.

GT: Because of the sensational value of the project, we got a lot of 
distorted media coverage in the beginning. And most critic, from 
environmentalists or scientists, was targeted against the media coverage 
and not directly to our project. 'New Scientist' printed a full-page 
comment on our project, basically saying 'they are not scientists, they 
don't know what they do'. I was quite pissed off, because I gave them a 
30-minute telephone interview, and then they (deliberately?) got two key 
facts wrong.

  >What is your response to the more critical scientists?

GT: Our response is to invite them to explain the project thoroughly. It 

SF: 'New Scientist' said something along the lines 'interesting, if only 
it would be more scientific'. We are primarily artists and designers, our 
role is to pose question to the idea of bioethics and inquiry for better 
communication to non-specialists in science. We are also interested in 
being scientific, but it seems hard to understand for some, that science 
can also be done outside institutions. The important thing is not to stop 

  >Which 'genetic artists' do you especially admire? ( & why? )

GT: Heath Bunting's Superweed project was one early and important display 
of how the powers of biotechnology can be put to work. Joe Davis, the 
'granddaddy of bio-art' is hugely important. We are very glad, to have 
collaborated with him. And of course your very own SymbioticA. We met Oron 
and Ionat quite early on during our project, and their very positive 
feedback was highly encouraging.

  >Future Biopresence projects?

GT: The website (B0_B0). I'm also thinking about constructing a computer 
programming language, made only from the letters ATCG. Maybe I can find 
working programmes hidden in the genetic code. SF: A book for children and 
adults explaining the project and its consequences. And a film documenting 
it. Other projects are secret!

jeanpoole  {AT} graffiti.net

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