28 02 2009


We grew up in an era of nuclear fear and nuclear promise. On one hand, specters of mushroom clouds, the blinding white light of an explosive flash, and civil defense drills haunted the psyche of the late twentieth century. On the other hand, politicians and scientists promised the benefits of the peaceful atom, where atomic power could be safely harnessed, and new imaging techniques would stimulate biomedical research.1 Humans had found a way to tap into the awesome power of the atom; anything seemed possible except to continue as we once had.

One of the outcomes of atomic war was the increased threat of mutation of all living beings. It was widely accepted that atomic radiation could damage chromosomes, which comprised the scaffolding for and tissue of the genes, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that many in the medical field came to accept the role of mutation in some diseases.2 Many scientists looked upon mutation as a risky promise, much like atomic power itself, where the power dormant in the gene could be utilized if properly managed. Mutations could lead to beneficial organic change, but only under rare circumstances. One could easily unlock these mutated futures, but unless one could learn to explore the unimaginable, most of the futures one would unlock were bleak, if not apocalyptic.

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22 02 2009


My artistic themes reflect on the limits of life and death in the context of molecular genetics. The installation, Tremor, was produced in April 2007 using video microscopy in the context of developmental biology and zebrafish genomics. Extreme close up evaluations of mutant zebrafish embryos were used capture the essence of the life force as movement, but also show, paradoxically, that making and unmaking the gene requires a pathological trespass into the mystery it seeks to reveal. In microscopic studies of embryonic growth, visual distortions, physical vibrations, shadows, reflections, scratches, and microbial parasites randomly appear. Awkward co-ordination of eye and hand movements, control of the image and the limitations of a fixed viewpoint were used to engage the viewer in a visceral and psychological reading of a mediated life form. I showed how physical contact and looking create tremors and palpitations that are tactile, reactive and deadly because the embryonic organism is sensitve and frequently dies.

k1 Stills, Tremor (2007)

Zebrafish belong to a group of model organisms deliberately bred to study vertebrate development. They are used to search for mutations randomly using classical forward genetics, and then selectively bred. Historically, shared characteristics suggested linear chains with humans as the dominant species, but as the all life is revealed in greater genetic complexity, it sheds new light on human evolution and our interconnection to other species becomes more pervasively subtle. Humans share ancestors with fish but the transgenic application of our molecular self to other species now renders evolutionary comparisons redundant.

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22 02 2009


1) Susceptibility to teratogenesis depends on the genotype of the conceptus and the manner in which this interacts with adverse environmental factors.

2) Susceptibility to teratogenesis varies with the developmental stage at the time of exposure to an adverse influence. There are critical periods of susceptibility to agents and organ systems affected by these agents.

3) Teratogenic agents act in specific ways on developing cells and tissues to initiate sequences of abnormal developmental events.

4) The access of adverse influences to developing tissues depends on the nature of the influence. Several factors affect the ability of a teratogen to contact a developing conceptus, such as the nature of the agent itself, route and degree of maternal exposure, rate of placental transfer and systemic absorption, and composition of the maternal and embryonic/fetal genotypes.

5) There are four manifestations of deviant development (Death, Malformation, Growth Retardation and Functional Defect).

6) Manifestations of deviant development increase in frequency and degree as dosage increases from the No Observable Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) to a dose producing 100% Lethality (LD100)1

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