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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  June 2018

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING June 2018

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Subject:

"...and the bunny goes POP!" at Horse Hospital in London.

From:

bronac ferran <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

bronac ferran <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 15 Jun 2018 12:16:09 +0100

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text/plain

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I am writing to draw your attention to an exhibition in London's
Bloomsbury district that is on for another week and may be of interest
to you.  Here is a link to the venue, with
opening times etc.
https://www.thehorsehospital.com/events/and-the-bunny-goes-pop

This exhibition has been supported through the Digital Transformations
Research Fellowship of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and
co-curated by Professor Andrew Prescott and myself. It takes as a
starting point the development of Eduardo Kac's bio art project, 'GFP
Bunny', and runs it through the lens of spin off activities which have
been numerous - and are ongoing. Many of the works we show in the
exhibition and in a new, specially made film by Kac that compiles
various Alba-related references in popular culture, etc, were not
known even to the artist until the process of developing the
exhibition took place. He has admitted that in many respects the
concept of the green bunny has leapt out of his control, a process
reflected on in an accompanying text by Prescott (an extract from
which I include below). In this Prescott annotates some of the ways in
which glowing green bunnies now permeate popular culture from the
Smurfs to MacDonalds' 'happy meals', from Margaret Atwood's novels to
the Big Bang Theory and Sherlock Holmes.
______________________________________________________________________

The Cultural History and Appropriation of Alba: a first cut

Andrew Prescott.

GFP Bunny is the most famous of the pioneering transgenic art works
created by the Chicago-based artist Eduardo Kac. The image of Alba, an
albino rabbit genetically modified so that, when illuminated with
light at a particular wavelength, she glows fluorescent green, became
one of the first iconic images of the twenty-first century. As a
result of the international controversy and debates generated by GFP
Bunny, depictions of fluorescent green rabbits appeared widely in
newspapers, magazines and television.

The process by which Alba escaped into the outside world and spawned
innumerable offspring provides a fascinating case study in cultural
dynamics, and this is the focus of the present exhibition. From the
outset the artist saw the public dialogue generated by the project as
integral to the artwork, however, this initial discussion of GFP Bunny
was however only the first stage in the process by which the bunny
went viral. It is sometimes assumed that the proliferation of cultural
memes is due largely to the internet. However, the initial debates
around GFP Bunny were dominated by more conventional media:
newspapers, magazines, television, radio, public debate and
performance. Moreover, the subsequent and most influential stages of
the process by which the idea of a fluorescent green bunny was taken
up by a wide range of creative artists was transmedia in character and
not restricted to the internet. The bunny appeared in films, novels,
TV programmes, cartoons and as a toy. The internet undoubtedly
accelerated this process and extended its international reach, but was
not the reason the bunny went viral. The internet also assists in
investigating and documenting the bunny’s journey.

Alba was extensively appropriated by a number of authors and artists,
with and without acknowledgement, from her earliest appearance.
However, as is shown in the exhibition, some of these became
influential, to the extent that the idea of a fluorescent green rabbit
is now better known through these channels than from Kac’s original
artwork. What is striking about this process is the way in which the
concept has moved from dystopian views of biotechnologies, during the
years immediately after Alba’s birth, to a more commercialised and
arguably sanitised view in recent manifestations. One of the issues
raised by the way in which the bunny went viral is to what extent
these shifting views reflect underlying cultural and social trends.

 First, in 2003 the Canadian author Margaret Atwood published Oryx and
Crake, a dystopian novel describing a degraded and depraved world in
which biotechnology companies have unlimited wealth and power and all
life is commodified. A plan to genetically modify the human race
eventually leads to its destruction. Atwood’s novel is packed with
many strange transgenic creatures, such as the Hyena Swine (a cross of
pig and hyena), M’ling (a hybrid of bear, dog and ox). Pigoons (pigs
bred to grow human organs) and Wolvogs (that have the appearance of
dogs and savageness of wolves).


Among the first of these transgenic creatures to be created, according
to Atwood, was a fluorescent bunny:


Across the clearing to the south comes a rabbit, hopping, listening,
pausing to nibble at the grass with its gigantic teeth. It glows in
the dark, a greenish glow filched from the iridicytes of a deep-sea
jellyfish in some long-ago experiment. In the half-light the rabbit
looks soft and almost translucent, like a piece of Turkish delight; as
if you could suck off its fur like sugar.


Oryx and Crake was one of Atwood’s most successful novels and a
television adaptation is in development, which will doubtless feature
the green rabbits. Many illustrations of Oryx and Crake give
prominence to fluorescent rabbits but without referencing Alba, as
original inspiration. Oryx and Crake was the first of a trilogy, and
green rabbits also figure in the other novels in the trilogy, Year of
the Flood (2009) and Maddadam (2013)


The second major development in the media career of Alba occurred in
2012, when the Japanese director Yukata Tsuchiya premiered at the
Tokyo International Film Theatre a film inspired by a scandal which
had shocked Japan, when a schoolgirl had tried to poison her mother
with thallium. Tsuchiya’s film explored the girl’s motives by
examining her other interests, which included experiments in
dissection, genetic engineering and bio-art. Among the characters
encountered by the girl are a biologist who created a transparent frog
and an artist who implants a chip with GPS in her hand (echoing Kac’s
own 1997 work Time Capsule). At the end of the film, the girl rides
off on a motorcycle with Takahashi, a body modification artist.


This film won the best picture award in the Japanese Eyes section of
the Tokyo International Film Festival and has been shown at many other
major international film festivals including Rotterdam, Singapore,
Taipei, Hamburg and Montreal. By agreement with Eduardo Kac, the
English title of the film was GFP Bunny. As a result, this Japanese
film came to occupy the GFP Bunny space in social media. The only GFP
bunny domain in use on the web is that used by the film:
gfp-bunny.info. The Facebook and Twitter accounts for gfpbunny are
used by the film. (The gfpbunny Instagram account is owned by James
Matthew, an American epidemiologist who is doubtless aware of Kac’s
work but does not refer to it in his Instagram account). The Japanese
film not only took the idea of the GFP bunny to new audiences but also
effectively colonised its social media presence.


The third and perhaps most influential media appropriation of Alba
occurred in 2012. In reworking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The
Hound of the Baskervilles for the BBC TV series Sherlock (as The
Hounds of Baskerville), the scriptwriter Mark Gatiss read about Kac’s
GFP Bunny. Realising how the genetic engineering could be used to
update Conan Doyle’s plot device of luminous paint, Gatiss introduced
a side plot in which a scientist at the top secret base of Baskerville
had created a glow-in-the-dark bunny called Bluebell. At the beginning
of the episode, the scientist’s child writes to Holmes to ask for his
help in finding the missing Bluebell. The Hounds of Baskerville was
one of the most popular of the Sherlock reworkings of detective
stories and the vanishing luminous rabbit Bluebell became celebrated
in T- shirts, mugs, stickers, toys and even babies’ clothes


This process of commercialisation of Alba reached its apotheosis with
the release by Sony Pictures in April 2017 of the animated film,
Smurfs: The Lost Village. In the film, Smurfette and her friends
Brainy, Hefty and Clumsy use a mysterious map to enter the Forbidden
Forest and find a lost village said to be full of Smurfs before the
evil wizard Gargamel. The four Smurfs suffer many hair-raising
adventures. Gargamel tries to kill them with fire-breathing
dragonflies and the four Smurfs get lost in a maze of caverns. They
are rescued by a stampede of glow-in-the-dark rabbits. Smurfette and
the other Smurfs befriend one glow bunny, Bucky, who takes them all
the way to the river but is afraid of the river itself. Later on, he
helps Papa Smurf in locating the four missing Smurfs.


Whilst the glow bunny Bucky featured prominently in the formidable
merchandising of Smurfs: the Lost Village, with many glow bunny toys
and games being produced, Alba finally reached merchandising nirvana
when a series of McDonalds Happy Meals were recently produced
featuring The Lost Village, including toy packs with luminous bunnies.
At one level, the Smurfs, and the ‘Happy Meals’ of McDonalds, might be
seen as representing a sanitisation of the vision of Aloba presented
in Oryx and Crake. However, at another level, references to transgenic
animals in animated films and in hamburger merchandising might be
taken as indicating that we are on the path to the dystopian world
described by Atwood.


The glow bunny Smurf toys were licensed with the full weight of Sony’s
commercial might, although Sony itself appropriated the idea of the
glow bunny from Kac and the GFP Bunny. It will be interesting to see
whether Sony tries to restrict the cultural proliferation of
fluorescent rabbits and what effect this commercialisation has on
Alba’s continued dissemination. Do the Smurfs and McDonalds represent
the end of Alba’s journey?


Probably not. Alba is now a creature of the internet. Glowing
creatures permeate popular art, as sites such as Deviantart reveal.
Meantime, Patrick Lichty, Peer Hansen and Rachel L. have taken the
cultural commentator McKenzie Wark’s mesh of Guy Debord, and added an
ear on the back (for Stelarc) and Bunny Ears (for Eduardo Kac). This
Detournement #1 of McKenzie Wark's Guy Debord: Kac/Stelarc Remix is
available under a Creative Commons licence in Thingiverse, so that
Alba responses are now being 3D-printed.

The exhibition is on until Saturday 23rd June. I hope you might find
time to visit/provide some further reflections on this ongoing story.
I plan to be at the venue this coming Tuesday (19 June) in the
afternoon if anyone has time to pop in.
--
Bronaċ

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