Right now in Australia they are attempting to bring the Tasmanian Tiger back from extinction. A creature that was at one point in time the largest carnivorous marsupial, died in captivity in Hobart Zoo in 1936. This creature was hunted into extinction when a bounty was created for its hide and paralleled the colonization of Australia and pushing out of Aboriginal communities. The only reason these scientist were are able to map the genome of the Tasmanian Tiger is when the Thylacines were slaughtered, many of the pups were still in their dead mother’s pouch. These puppies were then put in formaldehyde and sat in museums until Dr. Andrew Pask and his team took them out in order to digitally scan, map the genome of the creature and try to understand how this marsupial developed so similarly to a dog despite not being a placental mammal.
When they are not working on genetic engineering to battle pesticide-inflicted genital mutations; Pask and his team are working on using marsupial rats to become the potential mother of the Tasmanian Tiger. The next carnivorous marsupial that will be lost is the Tasmanian Devil. This marsupial dying because of a transferable cancer that is contracted because the Devils are so genetically similar. The animal whose nature is to fight and scratch in the throes of love-making are perpetuating their own demise doing what they love to do. The only way they might be saved is quarantine, breeding projects and potentially, genetic engineering diversity into that genome.
Meanwhile, the native plants in Tasmania and Australia are becoming extinct at rapid rates and there are currently 3 seed safes seeking to preserve these plants with a potential that is incredibly unknown. Using cryogenic freezing, tissue cultures, and cloning, these scientists have a Sisyphean job ahead of them as they collect seeds at a rate slower than the extinction of native Austrian plants. Some of these the institutions are Sci-Fi monoliths of power and support while other are broken dystopian laboratories with non-functioning freezers in the basement; but both are met with challenges that no amount of money can solve.
Taking into consideration Donna Haraway’s term of the Chtulescene from in which our biologies are inexorably linked, Seed Mother is an attempt to create entanglements of meaning and process. Not coming from a scientific background, these horror-narratives of DNA’s bending and folding in a post-CRISPR-baby world are reminiscent of Chernobyl-inspired bio-horror of the 1980s. It is hard to figure out how our era will be remembered with how our archives will continue. While our forms of technology change from stone, to paper, to plastic, to cloud, we are discovering not even our DNA will be a stable form of documentation.
With the performance of the Tasmanian-Devil hybrid, I am existing in a world where hybridized combination is a lonely frontier, but a necessary step for creating empathy and care. These plants are grown from clay that I formed with my hands and out of the bath water I stewed in. This paper that contains the paper waste of CalArts is also made from this bathwater and has the histories of these scientists projected on it with future technologies. The pouch is a zone where the DNA code of the Tasmanian Tiger is being played with different pitches of the didgeridoo and the song being sung is human dna found on a public databank sung by my mother. The trumpet acting as the song the doomed Tasmanian Devil and CRISPR weaving in and out of these DNA histories. People are invited into the entanglement by being allowed to put their bodies in the pouch and feel the co-opted virus technique as noise. All of these gestures are my feeble attempts to create forms of undead archives and to genetically engineer art objects.
How are we as humans, and maybe ever more importantly, as artists, supposed to approach the issues of the undead as an archive. With our work being an impression of the culture, ideas and forms of the world we live in how can we maintain the lessons from the corpses of today simultaneously with the having a future to be able to learn these lesson? What does responsibility look like for artists? What does responsibility look like for scientists?
Please continue to help my Seed Mother grown and water her in my absence.
Molly Jo Shea
MFA Candidate 2019