Hatbox, The Mouse, & The DNA
Matter for a New Fable in Search of an Aesop
Click here to view video
from the exhibition [mpg file].
||PATENT No. 530.
M. Steiner, Inventor, 1837.
A hatbox shaped like a hat.
Cliff Petersen Collection.
Photography, Joanne Savio.
In the era of traveling circuses, the days of these patent models,
barkers would attract the crowds while magicians pulled pigeons
out of their top hats. The barkers have gone the way of the travelling
circuses. The magicians, turning to the labs, have taken to pulling
mice out of their brains. And these mice are not just plain old
mice but designer mice, "transgenic non-human eukaryotic animals,"
patentable and patented, and, therefore claimed by the patentee.
Of course, since the creation of the patent office, one has always
been able to patent "compositions of matter"; and, from
a certain viewpoint, animal bodies are nothing but compositions
of matter, albeit living. Even live forms have previously been patentable
under hte guise of plant: new kinds of roses and corn, apples and
oranges obtained through cross fertilization, cutting or grafting
or whatever "macro-method" used, have been patented since
1931. It is the new micro-methods, however, operating at the molecular
level which raise questions in the mind of people. A quantum jump
seems to have been made here. As with energy, when the atom was
split, a new dimension has opened, not just scientifically and technically,
but spiritually, ethically, socially, and politically when the DNA
structure was "read-out" and the possibility, for humans,
of altering the very course of the nature of life, from the inside
so to speak, became available. It is felt that a silent genetic
bomb is now at hand, even more powerful and far-reaching than the
nuclear bomb. But with it also comes the possibility of redeeming
much human, and generally, living misery. It all hinges on wisdom.
That obviously is the weak link. So the hope is that in this bid
circular world, one eventually may hit upon the wisdom gene and
fuse it in the very core of every creature! In the meantime, we'll
have to live by our unaltered wits.
The operations of gene fusion as described in the patent on the
transgenic non-human mammals are indeed technically complex. There
is no doubt, however, that all these operations can, in time, be
automated, making the typography of genes as simple as computerized
graphic typography has become compared to the old typesetting composition.
Perhaps the growth process can also be accelerated to match the
speed of computers so that as we type in the new gene, a fully grown
animal emerges out of the box! Pandora's box, indeed! Will more
than just Hope stay in the box this time?