(Cat Grange, Intern, BFA student at UNO)
From ancient Greece to today, the rabbit has been a prolific and complex symbol in art history. It represents abundance, fertility, and Immaculate Conception – but also the insidious nature of unbridled lust. Thousands of artworks featuring Benson’s favorite furry thing have been produced since antiquity. So to celebrate the rabbit’s dynamic contributions to our visual language, I will be highlighting one of these artworks in a series of short articles, starting with GFP Bunny (AKA “Alba”).
In 2000, French scientists injected green fluorescent protein (GFP) from a jellyfish into the fertilized egg of a rabbit. It was part of Chicago artist Eduardo Kac’s project, which he described as transgenic art. The rabbit, named Alba, was born in April that year. Under normal conditions, she looked like any other albino rabbit with white fur and pink eyes. But under the correct lighting, she glowed fluorescent green.
Producing a glowing bunny was only one part of the transgenic project. As Kac said in his statement, “The second phase is the ongoing debate, which started with the first public announcement of Alba's birth.” Alba sparked discussion across disciplines, including art, biology, social sciences, law, and philosophy. What are the ethical implications of genetic modification and gene therapy? How does this affect our understanding of diversity and the way we treat individuals we perceive as “other”? What does this mean for the future of interactive art?
The third phase – if the project had been completed – would have steeped the conversation further in a social context. Eduardo Kac intended to integrate Alba into his home, giving her a life of normalcy that any other un-spliced pet rabbit could enjoy. But unfortunately, Alba died two years later for reasons unexplained, never having left the lab she was born in. It’s been speculated that the scientists involved wanted to distance themselves from the controversy started by Kac, but the truth is still unclear.
Despite its untimely end, the GFP Bunny project made significant strides in art in relation to science and technology. For that, Alba is worth celebrating.
Our Newsroom editors are current interns of BFF - most are students at UNO.