"'I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!'"
* Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Ch.2
The Homeobox (hox) genes essentially define body regions in all animals including humans – responsible for determining two arms, two legs, one nose and so on. This gene is shared by all living beings – from flies to whales to humans – and they can now be manipulated into deliberate transformations of existing body parts into others. It is hypothesized that engineering the Hox could lead to groundbreaking work in the fields of limb and organ regeneration.The goal of the Hox Zodiac project is to entice the audience with these fascinating genes that are responsible for many different variations of legs, arms and other parts of the body exist in the animal kingdom. We create an experiential space that relates the idea that we are all interconnected and evolutionarily share the same genes. Most of our scientific understanding of humans is through arduous studies on various animals. While there are many differences in structure, form and function across species, there is also an underlying commonality between them. We are all defined by an anterior-posterior axis, with the head on one end, tail at the other and limbs in between. The common thread that links all such body forms, and the myriad of possibilities and morphological novelties that leads to the differences are these Hox genes. Our hope is that the audience will be enticed into pondering about this intriguing concept and become excited about it. As an interface we use a table, a dining table with a lazy-susan, where audience is encouraged to be seated in accordance to their zodiac animal. The Chinese Zodiac presents creatures that reiterate the many different body types that the Hox genes define and also offers the dichotomy between laboratory animals (rat, pig, chicken, monkey etc.) and non-lab animals (such as the tiger, horse, ox etc.). With the advance of genetic technologies, manipulation of the genes of many of these organisms is already a reality. It is not far-fetched to imagine the ramifications of Hox gene alterations, leading to changes in body plan and mutated hybrid-animals. The dragon, a creature relegated to mythology could fast become a mutated reality in the recognizable future. As users interact with elements of the zodiac, represented in lab petri-dishes, they will also interact with one another, both in controlling the movement of the lazy-susan as well as through active discussion. We also attempt to visualize the various chemical gradients that Hox genes control, that ultimately define the various regions of the proto-embryo. We invite people to come share at our Hox dinner table, consuming bits of themselves and creating new creatures and concepts in the process. The audience experiences and shares their thoughts, extending the collaborative process of the work into a new dimension.
Taking it in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries. Only monkeys parade with it.
Carl Jung, The Integration of the Personality. 1939
The Homeobox (hox) genes essentially define body regions in all animals including humans – responsible for determining two arms, two legs, one nose and so on. This gene is shared by all living beings – from the snail to the elephant to humans – and they can now be manipulated into deliberate transformations of existing body parts into others. Hox genes are expressed along the anterior-posterior (A/P) body axis in majority of animals, creating a unique A/P code which plays a pivotal role in segment specific morphogenesis. Such transformations, like that of an amputated antenna into a limb, have been observed as far back as 1901 and has only relatively recently re-emerged as an area of scientific study. Spontaneous transformations and induced regenerations is fascinating research that is fast becoming a reality and some scientists are postulating that it may be possible that the hox genes could be central to limb regeneration in the future . Conceptually the possibility of manipulated animals has been pervading in our literature from myths and mythologies of different civilizations to popular fiction over the ages. Many of these creatures are well set in our collective consciousness with stories that are told to us as children.
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Here you can find videos and images from HOX installation and RD process.
The Hox Roundtable:An insight into the genetic commonality defining all species and the ramifications of laboratory manipulation.
Brief Description:This work iterates the importance of Hox genes that underlie body plan and morphology across all species from snails to elephants to humans. We use an interactive dinner table, with various animals of the Chinese zodiac, constituting both laboratory creatures as well as mythological, to invite discussion on the similarities across species, the genes that define us and lab experiments that are creating almost mythological mutants.
Victoria Vesna is a media artist, professor at the department of Design | Media Arts at the UCLA School of the Arts. She is also director of the UCLA Art|Sci center and the UC Digital Arts Research Network. Her work can be defined as experimental creative research that resides between disciplines and technologies. She explores how communication technologies affect collective behavior and how perceptions of identity shift in relation to scientific innovation. Victoria has exhibited her work in 20+ solo exhibitions, 70+ group shows, published 20+ papers and gave a 100+ invited talks in the last decade. She holds a PhD from the University of Wales and is the North American editor of AI & Society and author of Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Website
Siddharth Ramakrishnan is a Neuroscientist with a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. His thesis work dealt with the hormonal modulation of Central Pattern Generators underlying rhythmic motor behaviors in simple nervous systems. As a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA he worked on the development and migration of the neuroendocrine cells underlying reproduction using transgenic zebrafish as a model system. He also studied the effects of environmental estrogens on the embryonic development and sexual maturation in fish. Currently he is working at Columbia University, New York in the field of bio-electronics. Website
Pinar Yoldas is an LA based artist and educator. She received her BArch from Middle East Technical University, her MA in Visual Communication Design from Istanbul Bilgi University, her MS in information technologies from Istanbul Bilgi University and (finally) her MFA from UCLA's Design|Media Art department. So far, Pinar has exhibited in Los Angeles, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Bologna. Her work is a reflection of her interests in design, architecture, neuroscience, evolution, gender studies and science fiction. Pinar is Aegean and is currently teaching at UCLA.Website