Ars Electronica 1993
Festival-Program 1993
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Festival 1979-2007


About Genetic Art

'Peter Weibel Peter Weibel

Technology can be defined as man-made nature. It is presently entering a new stage of its development in which it converts the central processes of natural life into artificial, man-made processes. Genetic engineering which modifies existing forms of life (micro-organisms, plants, animals, human beings) or creates new forms of life is a very delicate issue, because it does not only interfere with micro-organisms, plants or animals but also constitutes an instrument for interventions in the human organism, i.e. for modifications of the human genes. About 90 years ago, Bateson gave the science of heredity the name "genetics". Genetics is a discipline of the 20th century. The hereditary factors, the genes contained in the chromosomes, can mutate. Experiments carried out with flies (drosophila) and low organisms like bacteria and viruses resulted in numerous mutants and new insights into the laws of life, of heredity, of procreation and growth.

Genetic art as artistic counterpart of genetic engineering is on the one hand intended to simulate processes of life with the same modern technological tools and methods as the latter. On the other hand, it is to use traditional methods and strategies for a critical reflection on the potential consequences of such simulations and the synthetic creation of life. Genetic art thus embraces:

Artificial interventions in growth processes (acceleration, stopping, slowing down and modification of growth processes) and structural modifications – either in the biological material itself or on the immaterial level of the computer simulation.
Biological processes of procreation and reproduction of different forms of life, from micro-organisms, for instance bacteria, to low organisms, for instance ants – either on a biological or on a digital level.
Genetic manipulation of foodstuffs, animals and human beings.
The life of language. Grammars of languages constitute a creation formalism that can be compared with the algorithm of plant growth. In such grammars, information is furthermore encoded in such a way that they can serve as general models.
Three-dimensional, mechanical beings made of hard materials. These beings are characterized by a behaviour resembling that of living organisms, e.g. search mechanisms, self-preservation functions, stimulus-reaction patterns, etc.
Virtual, computer-simulated beings are like the above-mentioned mechanical beings characterized by behaviour patterns resembling those of living beings, or by processes of life, for instance information encoding, reproduction and the extinction of sets of individuals (populations) breeding in open spaces.
Machine configurations and programs that constitute beings resembling living organisms and that interact with human beings either on an immaterial level, i.e. in a two-dimensional space, or on a material level, i.e. in the three-dimensional space.

Genetic art is dedicated to the research in the field of artificial life but at the same time serves to criticize this very discipline. It is one of the few contemporary forms of art that do not stay confined to the realms of art but which approach the central points of life.