Genetic Initiatives

As far as I know, there have been 4 primary interventions that involve directly writing poetry into genes.

The first was renegade bio-artist Joe Davis’ Microvenus project. He wrote an an ancient fertility glyph into an e coli in 1996 and exhibited it at Ars Electronica 2000. For this he invented his own coding structure.

The second was Eduardo Kac’s insertion of a biblical verse (“Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”) into a strand of DNA for his 1998 Genesis exhibit. In this exhibit networked viewers control a UV light which effects the rate of bacterial propogation (in other words, alters its publishing).

The third was Craig Venter who on May 20th 2010 announced that his team had created and watermarked the first self-replicating artificial organism with a codified puzzle, the names of the organism’s authors, and 3 citations, including one from James Joyce: “TO LIVE, TO ERR, TO FALL, TO TRUIMPH, TO RECREATE LIFE OUT OF LIFE”. Ominous? Perhaps. Trivial? Not at all. This shifts the definition of self-publishing.

The fourth poetic-genetic intervention, Christian Bök’s Xenotext Experiment, was proposed in 2007 and implemented in 2011; it apparently releases poetic responses (proteins encrypted in readable ways).

Each of these processes is far from creating a living language that will persist without complicated life support or function as viable technology for reading that will challenge the book or screen. Though Venter’s organism replicates; and Bök intends to splice his next verse into a very durable critter and potentially outlive humanity, there is the problem of user interface developments: how exactly do we read these texts except as interventions which challenge our conception of memory substrates?

Each project is more akin to a microbe making a tattoo on an elephant than a sustained treatise on molecular poetry. Yet these tiny revolutionary incremental splices interject imagination onto molecular substrates, intertwine the context of text with molecular biology, and anticipate a radical shift in the materiality of reading.

How does this connect to digital poetry? Rapid sequencing and subsequent manipulation of the genome emerge in parallel with computation. The genome for the first self-replicating synthetic cell was “designed in the computer”. Binary encoding processes convey the word into flesh.

, ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *