| On Exhibition | August 1 â€“ September 14, 2015
Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki
On the Monsantra Project The artist team of Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki make up PlantBot Genetics Inc., a parody of the Monsanto Corporation and other Big Ag Firms who skillfully manipulate current food production and distribution systems. Posing as farmers at a leading Biotech Research Laboratory and using transgenic seeds from the Monsanto Corporation, genetically modified food plants are grafted onto remote controlled bases creating PlantBots. For their exhibition at Seed Space, DesChene and Schmuki installed a series of their “Attackaratus” Plantbots. As they describe in their their faux scientific description on display in the gallery: “These PlantBots are so fierce and hardy that when PlantBot Geneticists find one, they immediately (at great risks to themselves) try to contain it in a sealed container for study. Attackaratus is a SuperBug specimen resistant to the inserted Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene in modified crops designed to kill insects. It is inevitable that resistance builds with each insect generation and our first-rate team of etymologists is hopeful the Attackaratus will be contained. Thus far, current pesticides cannot destroy increasing populations of these bugs. These bots are extremely aggressive towards each other and when placed side by side become extremely agitated.” Viewers are invited to press the red buttons at the top of their glass containers to “play” or activate the bots, which light up and run around like agitated robotic insects, the result of which is both entertaining and anxiety inducing. In creating such an experience, DesChene and Schmuki ask viewers to question their food, where it comes from, and where it may be going. As described in their art statement: “The Monsantra project provokes investigations into current agricultural practices, inspiring individuals to think more critically despite their connections to farming, economic level, education, or art interest.” Rachel Bubis is the curator and gallery director of Seed Space.
Radical Bots “One must always try to be as radical as reality itself,” said Lenin, but he surely never imagined a time when corporations would manipulate and patent the genetic code of living things, thus pressing organisms at the molecular level into service as profit generators. Triumphant capitalism in the 21st century has assumed the godlike privilege of creating forms of life never found in nature. This takes ownership of the means of production to a whole new level — a radical reality indeed. PlantBot Genetics [www.monsantra.com], an ongoing collaboration between Canadian artist Wendy DesChene and U.S. artist Jeff Schmuki,
skewers this brave new world of biological exploitation with satire. PG is a fictional biotech company that parodies the Monsanto Corporation, one of the world’s largest agricultural firms and a leader in developing and marketing genetically modified crops. DesChene and Schmuki use real GMO seeds from Monsanto to make a variety of little “plantbots’ such as the Britneyatacum Floridada (known for its “shrill repeating requests to ’Hit it One More Time’”) and the BallaDiva (“If you fertilize them with a constant supply of coke and bad boyfriends these flowers will turn your garden into a concert of song!”) The concept is funny, but it’s not just played for laughs. DesChene and Schmuki are activists as well as artists, and their project is directed toward promoting awareness of the dangers of the Monsanto model.
SEED SPACE ART + TECH LAB The particular bot exhibited at Seed Space is Attackaratus, described as “a SuperBug specimen resistant to the inserted Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene in modified crops designed to kill insects.” In other words, it’s an unforeseen, unpleasant side effect of genetic manipulation. Attackaratus is ferocious and must be kept confined. It sits placidly in its container until zapped into action by the touch of a viewer. Then it scutters about like a crazed scorpion, putting on a menacing display. It’s an absurd little critter, but the image of Earth overrun with millions of its kind has to prompt a slight shudder. Attackaratus is clearly designed to make us consider the scary consequences of trying to defeat nature’s infinitely complex system of checks and balances. It reminds us how easily genetic tinkering could spawn an uncontrollable plague or some other environmental catastrophe. That prospect is certainly terrifying, but there are also more insidious possibilities suggested by the bots. For instance, as genetic manipulation
becomes increasingly sophisticated, corporations may insist on proprietary claims over entirely new species. What are the ethical implications of such claims, especially for a species that may possess some intelligence and autonomy? Will corporate ownership persist as a manufactured species evolves? What is the nature of a species if it is never allowed to evolve? Such questions seem a lot less abstract when we look at the bots, which, despite their strangeness and absurdity, have some of the same appealing cuteness as a kitten or a hamster. Through these whimsical creations, DesChene and Schmuki prompt us to contemplate an ever more radical future in which corporate dominion over the most basic process of life — i.e., the replication of DNA — may force us to rethink our whole relationship to nature, and even what it means for an organism to be genuinely “alive.” Maria Browning is a freelance editor and writer based in White Bluff, TN.
SEED SPACE ART + TECH LAB
Artists + Curator + Writer
MARIA BROWNING is a reader, hiker, photographer, dog lover, and avid time waster who lives in White Bluff, Tennessee. She’s also a freelance editor and writer focusing primarily on books, music, and the visual arts. She is a regular contributor to Chapter16.org, an online literary journal, and her work appears frequently in the Nashville Scene, the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and the Knoxville News Sentinel. RACHEL BUBIS is an independent arts writer, curator of Seed Space, and gallery manager at E. T. Burk. Her writing has appeared in Nashville Arts Magazine, Nashville Scene, Native Magazine, Art Now Nashville, Art Art Zine, Nashville Wire, and Examiner. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Rollins College. Canadian artist WENDY DESCHENE and American artist JEFF SCHMUKI began practicing as PlantBot Genetics in 2009. Each had extensive experience and awards as solo artists before forming their collaboration. Raised with strong connections to the land around them, lent a easy begining to their collaboration. Wendy is part indigenous people of Canada and her father built an off grid cabin in the deep forest of Ontario where the family has spent several months every year since she was a toddler. Jeff was raised in the Sonora Desert of Arizona, an environment of extremes that nurtured a unique relationship to the fragile landscape and a respect of limited natural resources and solar energy from an early age. PlantBot Genetics create installations, interventions, and collaborations that combine activism, research, and social space in order to foster discussion and generate action in the area of ecological awareness. By linking environmental issues to a diverse array of creative operations and tactics, DesChene + Schmuki extend the “knowledge of the moment”, demonstrates the fragile connection between the natural world and personal action, and offers simple, positive changes that can be enacted to increase sustainability -- an activity that can be replicated long after the artists have moved on.
Seed Space is a lab for site-specific installation, sculpture and performance-based art in Nashville. We support our program in three specific ways. We bring in nationally recognized art critics to write our exhibition essays. We host regularly scheduled public talks. We facilitate meetings among artists, critics and curators. Through these means we aim to foster an exchange between a growing network of local and national artistic communities, which we believe is one of the best ways to support the careers of emerging artists. Located in the Track One building in the Wedgewood Houston neighborhood of Nashville, Seed Space is supported by the Nashville Cultural Arts Project (NCAP), and is made possible with grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Metro Nashville Arts Commission and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Gallery Director Rachel Bubis | Program Director Andri Alexandrou email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org www.seedspace.org
Essay by writer Maria Browning