True Monsters

Two excerpts, quoted both from Joe Davies, "Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes," Biomediale: Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture, ed. Dmitry Bulatov, Kaliningrad: The National Centre for Contemporary Art and The National Publishing House, 2004.

Transanimation in the History of Art. Accounts of divinely assisted or magically conjured interconversion or "transanimation" of all forms of animate and inanimate matter are important elements in Greco-Roman mythology and Judeo-Christian traditions. Both figure prominantly in the archives of human facination with the qualities of function and vitality that distinguish life and death.
The Greeks and Romans had Midas, Medusa, Arachne, Srynx, Daphne, and scores of other characters morphing or, "transanimating" back and forth from flesh and blood into gold, stone, river reeds, spiders, trees and many other exotic forms.

Aliens and Monsters. Perhaps the most profound example of "transanimation" is the serious scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence because we hope that by merely asking a question, we can bring the whole universe to life. Here [...] human imagination has been moved to repeat earlier themes. Popular hysteria about alien abductions are replete with sexual complications. There is both fear and anticipation.
An intriquing aspect of the transanimation stories is that they are almost always about horrible monsters that have romantic or sexual interactions with human beings. Yet, just as classical monstrosities all correspond to what we now understand to be examples of clinical pathology, it turns out that even our own modern monsters are inevitably, versions of ourselves. Perhaps this might help to explain why Star Trek's "Captain Kirk" had romantic liasons wth several non human species.
Composite, part human/part animal figures of the ancient Egyptian pantheon, the minotuar of Crete and the centuars of Greece and Rome all seem to have anticipated the spectre of inter-species monstrosity that haunts the anti-genetics lobby and activists concerned with genetically modified food. Yet, these chimeric "monsters" too have long existed in many, perhaps, unsuspected forms. Homo sapiens share many essential genes with the rest of terrestrial biology. We human beings, no matter how unique and gifted we imagine ourselves to be, have an approximate 70% genetic homology with tomatoes. Homo sapiens' genetic homology with chimpanzees and the great apes is closer to 99%.
It is somehow easy to overlook the fact that aliens and monsters have already completely overrun the planet. They are are numerous, ubiquitous and incognito and most of them have something to do with food.
Human beings have, since the beginning of agriculture, imparted their genetic preferences into the genomes of many different species. Essentailly all species related to agriculture have been genetically manipulated. Let's again take the tomato as an example, one that has been obtained say, at an "organic," "natural foods" grocery store. It has never been directly treated with chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Yet even this purest of tomatoes is a "monster" by dictionary definition (cite definition here?). Tomatoes as we know them have many more copies of their chromosomes than their raisin-sized ancestor's normal compliment. The extra DNA in today's tomatoes means that many genes are translated over and over again which has had the effect of giantizing the original fruit. So, once upon a time, we made giant tomatoes. It makes little difference whether or not this modification of tomatoes was carried out with conventional horticultural techniques, use of mutagenic agents, or the recombinant techniques of molecular biology. The result is the same. Tomatoes are "monsters." Most people just don't know.
Even a rose is a Frankenstein in a sense, because it is comprised of pieces and parts of the genomic makeup of many other subspecies of roses. The same is true for essentially all ornamental plants and many other non-food organisms modified by Homo sapiens for their aesthetically pleasing qualities or by-products.

George Gessert
Hybrid 703. Pacific Iris
orchid, 1992
Image courtesy of Wet Art Gallery

Over time, Human beings have not only been the creators of monstrosity, they have become the phages and/or consumers of the monstrosities they created. In so doing, they have indirectly modified themselves. If modern Homo sapiens had to survive on the ancestors of species that make up its current food supply, genetic "retrofits" would be called for. We would have to resupply ourselves with the phenotypes of earlier homonids simply to manage the collection and digestion of those materials.
It seems that not only have we been confused about who the monsters are, we expect everybody else (aliens) to be just as confused as we are.

[If "Nature copies Art" (Oscar Wilde),
the Look at You! syndrom will come as no surprise].

For a further discussion
Valery Podoroga: René Descartes and Ars chimaera
Sven Druehl: Chimaera Phylogeny
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