|Creators||Triscott, N., Achiampong, A. and Blandy, B.|
Genetic Automata by artists Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, curated by Nicola Triscott and commissioned by Arts Catalyst, was a film and installation exploring race and identity in an age of avatars, video games, and DNA Ancestry testing.
Concepts of race and ethnicity in science over the last century have been split between two main perspectives. One, rooted in the eugenics movement, treats racial and ethnic categories as biological classifications. The other, stemming from social science, regards race and ethnicity primarily as cultural and historical constructs with very little biological significance. Even after the human genome was decoded in 2003, which scientists believe proved there was no biological basis for race, the arguments continue to rage. This installation forms the first of a proposed body of works by the artists that attempt to address this complex history of classification and segregation.
Referencing the history of the theory of evolution, and the relationship between Darwin and his taxidermy teacher John Edmonstone, a freed slave, Achiampong and Blandy’s exhibition takes the form of a video installation combining animation, spoken word and text interspersed with microscopic topographies of varied shades of skin, digital renditions of skin from video games, and film footage of taxidermied bird life from Darwin’s bird skin collection at the Natural History Museum. Viewers are taken on an immersive journey marked by encounters with histories of racial science, computer-generated virtual landscapes and the molecular speculations of genetic testing. The work investigates how invisible histories – such as the transfer of knowledge from Edmonstone to Darwin – have helped to inform mainstream western scientific thinking while remaining unrecognised. It is now believed that Edmonstone was pivotal in advancing Darwin’s theory of evolution, inspiring Darwin to visit South America and teaching him taxidermy skills that enabled the preservation of specimens of finches Darwin discovered on his voyage to the Galapagos Islands, which helped him to develop his theory of natural selection. Through Genetic Automata, the artists question how these narratives shape our perception of the history of scientific thought and who determines such history.
|Keywords||contemporary art, film, race, avatars, video games, genetics, scientific racism|
|Year||24 Jan 2019|
|Funder||Arts Council England|
|Web address (URL)||https://www.artscatalyst.org/genetic-automata|