e-Femoral: the severed head and other stories

an extract from

Proposal for a Great Earth Mother:
Bio Art and Digital Literature

Regina Célia Pinto
(English Version: Sabrina Gledhill)


The renowned anthropologist Sir R.B. was the first to note the strange symbols on Kiwi multimedia artist HVJ’s femur stem. As a result, this item was immediately taken to the CALS (Center for Anthropological and Linguistic Studies) in the main city on the Island of Aotearoa. The world’s foremost anthropologists and experts in linguistics and codes flocked to that important research center to witness an unheard-of event in the world of Science.

For months on end, these specialists devoted themselves to the study of that femur stem without making any discoveries. Meanwhile, multimedia artist HVJ got used to walking with her new tantalum (1) hip implant, and was amazed at the sudden fame gained by that former part of her bone structure. Every day, the wildest claims appeared in the newspapers, but the scientists were stymied. The code was still unbroken.

In an attempt to overcome this problem, the creators of the Extra 1⁄4-Scale Ear (2) were called in. This project by TC&A and Australian artist Stelarc had found that living tissue can grow and sustain itself outside the body. The Extra 1⁄4-Scale Ear is a partial life form – partly constructed and partly autonomous, awaiting the opportunity to become a gentle prosthesis. Therefore, the same methods used to create the ear were employed on the femur stem, and to everyone's amazement, it began to develop and gain a life of its own. As a result, the code gained more characters and a bit more clarity.

Could it be a bio-poem? Then someone recalled Genesis, a transgenic work by the well-known and amazing Brazilian poet, multimedia artist and thinker Eduardo Kac (http://www.ekac.org/):

“Genesis is a transgenic artwork (3) that explores the intricate relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, dialogical interaction, ethics, and the Internet. The key element of the work is an "artist's gene", a synthetic gene that was created by Kac by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse Code, and converting the Morse Code into DNA base pairs according to a conversion principle specially developed by the artist for this work. The sentence reads: "Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." It was chosen for what it implies about the dubious notion--divinely sanctioned--of humanity's supremacy over nature.”

The next idea was to analyze the DNA of the item in question. The results of this study were astonishing. It was a completely unknown type. Even more astonishing was the fact that, after some time, images began to appear on the bone and move in a lively and dramatic fashion, suggesting the devastation and destruction underway on Planet Earth: “Let man rule the fish in the sea, the birds in the air and all the beasts which creep on the Earth”?

“Maori religion is closely related to nature and to the ancestors, and all things are conceived of as possessing a life force or mauri, since all living things are connected by a common descent through whakapapa or genealogy. Certain people and objects contain mana- spiritual power or essence. In accordance with the Polynesian tradition, Tangaroa is god of the ocean and the origin of all fish. Tane is the god of the forest and the origin of all birds, and Rongo is the god of peaceful activities and agriculture.” (Wikipédia)

An elderly inhabitant of the island, a Maori sage, was called in to give his opinion. Seeing all that magic in motion, he intuitively perceived the relationship between what was going on and the ancient myth of “Papatuanuku,” the Great Earth Mother:

"The mythological origins of Maori society are laid out in three major myth cycles, beginning with the creation myth of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the earth mother. The second sequence of myths deals with the adventures of the demi-god Maui, who fished up the land and brought many benefits into the world for humankind. The third series of myths deals with the life of Tawhaki, the model of an aristocratic and heroic figure. .... The central characters in the myths are gods, their progeny and their human descendants. The stories are narrated in prose form, with the notion of an evolutionary sequence conveyed by the storyteller linking the main characters through the traditional method of genealogical recital. Inherent in the genealogy of earth and sky, the gods and their human descendants is the notion of evolution and progression."
- Walker, Ranginui, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou:
Struggle Without End, Penguin, Auckland, 1990. (http://maaori.com/whakapapa/creation.htm)

It was then decided that a group of artists, all experts in Art and Biology, should be called in. After observing the scenes showing on what they began to call the Femur Cinema, comparing them with the state of perpetual ecological disaster reigning on our planet and engaging in a profound study of Maori mythology, they decided to engage in a collaborative effort to create a Great Earth Mother Cyborg or, as they affectionately call her, Papatuanuku Cyborg.

Although these artists are supported and sponsored by the “Planet Earth Preservation Fund” and aided by the wisest and most committed specialists in Biology, Genetics and DNA, the project is moving ahead slowly because everything involved is new and the subject of in-depth study. Responsibility and Ethics are key requirements for all the research team’s members. The first prototype, made from the same DNA as the femur stem, is already being tested. It contains chips that store all the respect for Nature of the less-complex cultures. Could this be the first stage of the planet’s future?

Now fully accustomed to her tantalum hip implant, Kiwi artist HVJ is playing an active part in the study. It is through her and her “on-line” performances that information on the project is being shared with universities on the island and the rest of the world. These performances clearly demonstrate all her love for our blue planet.

1 “Tantalum (formerly tantalium) is a chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Ta and atomic number 73. A rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous, transition metal, tantalum is highly corrosion-resistant and occurs in the mineral tantalite. Tantalum is used in surgical instruments and implants because it does not react with body fluids”.
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantalum)
2 "Extra Ear 1/4 Scale is about two collaborative concerns. The project represents a recognisable human part. However, it is being presented as partial life and brings into question the notions of the wholeness of the body. It is also confronts broader cultural perceptions of 'life' given our increasing ability to manipulate living systems. TC&A (http://www.tca.uwa.edu.au/extra/extra_ear.html)are dealing with the ethical and perceptual issues stemming from the realization that living tissue can be sustained, grown, and is able to function outside the body. Stelarc (http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/), ultimately, is concerned with the attachment of the ear to the body as a soft prosthesis. Extra Ear 1/4 Scale is partial life form – partly constructed and partly grown – waiting to become a soft prosthesis."
3 “Transgenic poetry: synthesize DNA according to invented codes to write words and sentences using combinations of nucleotides. Incorporate these DNA words and sentences into the genome of living organisms, which then pass them on to their offspring, combining with words of other organisms. Through mutation, natural loss and exchange of DNA material new words and sentences will emerge. Read the transpoem back via DNA sequencing”. (http://www.ekac.org/)


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