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Slow-Throughput Art


Who would have guessed it could take nearly as long to create an art show about genomes as it does to sequence one? Seattle’s art and science communities have been working for two years now on “Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics,” an exhibit slated to debut another year from now.

Seattle genomics and genetics luminaries including Maynard Olson, director of the University of Washington''s Genome Center; fellow UW geneticist Mary-Claire King; and science and technology historian Phillip Thurtle will be among scientists contributing scholarly essays for a CD-ROM accompanying the show, which will feature 60 pieces.

Those three are among a battalion of artists, scientists, historians, and biotech gurus who chose the show’s themes: Language, Structure, and Genomics; Healthcare, Privacy, and Ownership; Transgenics, Metagenics, and Beyond; and Self, Family, and Human Nature.

Some multimedia pieces were commissioned especially for the exhibit, which is being funded by the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, UW Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, and ZymoGenetics.

In some cases, artists learned sequencing and other technical skills before designing their contribution. One has literal messages spelled out by yeast growing in petri dishes in the branches of a figurative family tree. In another, the artist re-interprets the public/private sector sequencing race by placing genetic samples from his family on a sequencing racetrack; winners and losers of the race will be explained with biting, ironic commentary pulled from a racist, eugenic research tome.

The traveling show will open in February 2002 at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery and end late in 2003 in Berkeley, Calif.

—Diedtra Henderson


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