It would be logical to think that buying organic soy milk is to buy non-GMO soy milk. The guidelines for keeping weird science, in this instance genetically modified organisms, out of your body would seem intuitively straightforward. Yet with current product packaging there is no label for “Now with extra GMOs!” Given that the grains even look the same, how might one critically go about addressing the genetically modified food onslaught? Critical Art Ensemble says to ‘de-modify’. With eco-art as a tactical weapon, the collaborative five-artist ensemble addresses issues of rampant biotechnology using everything from live performances, to installation art, to controversial counter science.
In 2002 Critical Art Ensemble obtained ‘Roundup Ready’ canola, soy and corn and reverse-engineered the seeds to yield regular ol’ plants for the exhibition Molecular Invasion. They did this using a nontoxic chemical disrupter, calling the process Contestational Biology. In the installation’s accompanying position paper, the artists describe the use of ‘genetic un-design’ as ‘Fuzzy Biological Sabotage’.
Critical Art Ensemble has a history of addressing issues of bioethics, from their piece GenTerra, which created consumer-ready transgenic organisms, to the Cult of the New Eve, which poked fun at the paradisical promises of biotechnology. In general the group’s work highlights the dialogue between the natural world and the corporate world, and celebrates science and design as tools of the people. The weapons of their art, however benign, got CAE founder Stephen Kurtz subpoenaed under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act, and then indicted for mail fraud by a federal jury in 2004. Charges against him were recently dropped.