by Patricia Piccinini (2015)
The Rookie continues my long-term investigation into ambiguous convergence and hybridity in contemporary life. Set against the backdrop of the exponential progress being made in genetic engineering as a result of CRSPR techniques, this work responds on both a literal and a surreal level. It reflects on the emergence into the world of new creatures such as the Chinese ‘micropigs’. For $2000, consumers can purchase the world’s first ‘genetically customised’ pet. Of course we can argue that all domesticated animals are in fact ‘genetically customised’ through breeding, but these are the first to be directly engineered at a genetic level through a technique called CRSPR.
CRSPR seems set to do for GE what the PC did for computing - making it cheap and ubiquitous. For me, the interesting thing about the micropig is the nature of its’ particular adaptation: cuteness. What makes this particular organism uniquely adapted to its’ environment is its’ attractiveness to humans. Artificial evolution has selected for relative weakness and helplessness; the pigs they descend from are actually pretty fearsome up close. It is the micropig’s harmlessness relative to its’ human owners that will allow it to prosper. For me, this is a poignant and fascinating idea: Artificial evolution selects for ‘unfitness’ for the natural world.
Of course you could argue that this is all about making GE technologies like CRSPR less scary. Despite its’ massive implications CRSPR is still almost unknown in the wider world and a micropig is a pretty inoffensive organism with which to introduce it. It certainly garnered more positive headlines than the comparatively unsuccessful human embryo experiments which have already occurred.
Thus ‘The Rookie’; the first timer, the raw recruit, the novice. This is also a creature strangely adapted to its’ unnatural environment. It draws on the common morphological adaptations in nature that help creatures blend in with their environment, whether it is stick insects or owls. In the case of this creature, it is encased in a protective carapace that is derived from a football boot. However, perhaps like the micropig, it is The Rookie’s very vulnerability that is its’ greatest defence.