Alien Art

Why the feds want to destroy a Weisman exhibit

On June 21, the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis will close Eduardo Kac’s exhibition of animate art, which crosses scientific boundaries that only Hollywood had previously dared to breach. Shortly thereafter, his creations will be destroyed by order of the federal government. Not because they’re offensive or top secret, but because—like any aliens—they can’t be allowed to breed.

“We can’t release it into the wild,” Kac says, standing beside Edunia, a transgenic petunia that is part plant and part, well, Eduardo. Working with University of Minnesota plant biologist Neil Olzewski, Kac raised a small army of the new life forms by fusing a protein of his DNA with the petunia’s, creating a genetically modified organism, a “plantimal” in Kac-speak. The plant looks normal until you examine the humanoid red veins on the flowers—that’s Kac. “He has a fatherly relationship with the petunia,” notes a Weisman official.

Kac, who lives in Chicago, has made a career out of tweaking fears of alien miscengenation; he once made a bio-engineered bunny that glowed in the dark.

For the Weisman show, Kac created seed packs so that anyone could raise an Edunia. But this idea is “completely theoretical,” according to Christopher James, the Weisman’s communications director, explaining that even to display the seeds, the museum had to seal them behind glass. “The concern is propagation,” James says. Fittingly, to appease the real-life men in black (in this case, the U. S. Department of Agriculture), the Edunias will be killed inside an autoclave, a medical device used for sterilization.