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Reichle, Ingeborg

Where Art and Science Meet: Genetic Engineering in Contemporary Art

In the twentieth century, there was probably no more popular scientific term than gene and no other scientific discipline s images and visual metaphors achieved the status of all-pervasive cultural icons like those of molecular biology. The significance ascribed to genes, in anticipation of mapping and marketing them, extends far beyond their immediate role in heredity and development processes. The form of pictorial representation of the human genome in the shape of a double helix and images of the twenty-three pairs of human chromosomes are today no longer neutral descriptions of human genetic processes but rather have advanced to the status of ornaments and vehicles of a mythological and religious meaning of life itself . Already around 1900, early representatives of the young discipline of genetics exhibited a tendency to indulge in utopian rhetoric, conjuring up visions of a biological art of engineering or a technology of living organisms , which did not confine itself to the shaping of plants and animals but aspired to setting new yardsticks for human coexistence and the organisation of human society. Then, as now, the heralds of this biological revolution were predicting nothing less than a second creation; this time, however, it would be an artificially created bioindustrial nature, which would replace the original concept of evolution.

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