Move 36 by Artist Eduardo Kac
Premieres at the Exploratorium
March 4 – May 31, 2004
A genetically modified plant whose leaves, ironically, express what it means to be human, is at the center of a newly commissioned artwork by internationally recognized artist Eduardo Kac, who is noted for provocative artworks that appropriate the tools of computers. It premieres in Move 36, a new installation commissioned by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and is on view March 4-May 31, 2004.
The title of the installation refers to the dramatic move made by IBM computer Deep Blue against world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. Center-stage in the installation is a large-scale chessboard composed of alternating squares of dark earth and white sand. On the square exactly where Deep Blue made its fateful move sits the genetically modified plant. The plant has been modified with a synthetic gene whose four DNA bases have been ingeniously translated from the most common binary computer code, ASCII, to represent Descartes’s famous statement, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am.”).
The Cartesian gene, made specifically for this work, was created from the translation of Descartes’s statement into the genetic bases (A, C, G, T) by associating these bases with binary digits — A=00, C=01, G=10, T=1 — resulting in a gene with 52 base pairs. Some of the leaves of the plant will appear smooth, as in the wild. The Cartesian gene, however, is expressed as curly leaves. Through genetic modification, the link between the Cartesian gene and curly leaves allows the naked eye to see precisely where the synthetic gene is expressed.
According to Kasparov, Deep Blue’s quintessential moment in Game Two came at Move 36, because rather than making a move that was expected by viewers and commentators alike — a sound move that would have afforded immediate gratification — it made a move that was subtle and conceptual and, in the long run, better. Kasparov could not believe that a machine had made such a keen move. The game, in his mind, was lost.
The work, which captures what Kac describes as “the match between the best player that ever was against the best player that never was,” is presented in conjunction with Traits of Life, a major new Exploratorium permanent collection, and is made possible by the National Science Foundation, with partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and Creative Capital.
For Kac, the presence of this Cartesian gene in the plant, rooted precisely where the human lost to the machine, points to the tenuous borders between humanity, inanimate objects endowed with life-like qualities, and living organisms that encode digital information. Video projections on two opposing walls evoke the two chess opponents in absentia.
Eduardo Kac is internationally recognized for his pioneering artwork, which focuses on the relationships among and between humans, animals, machines and different life forms. Kac was featured in ARTnews (December 2001) as one of the ten trendsetters to watch in the art world. The recipient of many awards and grants, Kac recently received a large-scale public art commission from the University of Minnesota (2003).
Kac's work has been shown extensively in venues such as the first Yokohama Triennial, Japan; Exit Art, New York; Museu de Arte Contemporânea, São Paulo; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Museo de Arte Moderno de México, Mexico City; OK Contemporary Art Center, Linz, Austria; Fundación Telefónica, Madrid; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Le Lieu Unique, Nantes, France; Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; and Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro.
The most recent book published about his work is The Eighth Day: The Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac (The Institute for Studies in the Arts, Arizona State University, / distributed by Art Publishers, New York, 2003).