Think Pink: The Ethical Implications of Bioart
An invitation to an ethical query surrounding bioart inspired by the course Art and Technology
The Pink Chicken Project (2017), created by the Swedish duo (Non)human (non)sense Collective, acknowledges the slow degradation of our planet and our inevitable demise. The artwork is meant to be a thought experiment, inviting its audience to truly question the biotechnology available today and acknowledge the dire state of our surroundings along with the consequences of our actions upon them. While this project is simply speculative and dystopian, the thoughts and discussions it arises are not. The destruction of our planet, the problematic applications of biotechnology and the ethical implications of “real” bioartworks, are topics which should become of interest to the masses and something everyone should have at least minimal knowledge about.
Humans have destroyed the Earth so profoundly that it is believed that the planet will soon - in the next few centuries - become uninhabitable. The Anthropocene is the present geological epoch in which this human impact has become undeniable and absolute. Various elements will remain enclosed in our strata, ranging from nuclear fallout and plastic to the fossilized bones of the 60 billion domestic chickens killed yearly.
The two Swedish biodesigners, Linnea Våglund and Leo Fidjeland, came up with the Pink Chicken Project as a way to raise awareness of biotechnological practices as well as the Anthropocene. The project has been fully mapped out by its architects and while just a product of imagination, it is possible (even though somewhat improbable) to be developed the way it was envisaged to. The Pink Chicken Project desires to alter the entire species of Gallus Gallus Domesticus by using the CRISPR Gene Drive technology and thus ultimately coloring the most common bird species in the world, pink. Through the injection of chickens with a gene from the Cochineal insect, the birds’ bones and feathers would be colored pink permanently. Since this entails a process of gene modification, the pigmentation would be inherited and the distribution of this new bird would conclude rapidly. Through this process, the chicken bones would leave a pink trace in the earth’s crust, to hopefully be discovered and analyzed by future highly intelligent beings.
The Pink Chicken Project could be considered the purest form of bioart. The project doesn’t entail the ethical ramifications of biotechnology, while still educating about it and offering the possibility of causing a reaction within its audience without actively harming any living creature. The asset of bioart is that it allows for the possibility of bringing such discussions to light and forces its audience to consider the implications of modern technology.
So I invite every reader to take part in the thought exercise this project extends: Does the fact that the Pink Chicken Project is a fictional one make it ethically acceptable? Does the educational value of an artwork eventually outweigh its questionable ethics? Does the fact that it is considered to fall under the category of art allow it more moral flexibility?
Alexandra Sima is a third year student of Arts, Media and Society at Leiden University. Her thesis research focuses on the influence of Narcissism on the development of the contemporary museum. Alongside her studies she is also the Activities Officer and Vice President of the International Student Network (ISN Leiden).