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Artists join the genetic revolution in New York exhibit
(CNN) -- When they began planning their latest project more than a year ago, Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric immersed themselves in books and articles about the genetic revolution.
The daunting material quickly reminded them of their challenge in mounting an exhibition on the subject that has grabbed headlines around the world.
"We thought, look, if we have a hard time understanding what this is, and we're reading about it, the general public would have a harder time without the incentive to be doing research on it," Heiferman said.
That merely reinforced their mission to make "Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution" -- which opens Saturday at New York's Exit Art center -- engaging and accessible.
"If you've got them in that room, our hope is they will leave feeling less uptight about understanding this," said Kismaric, co-founder with Heiferman of Lookout, a New York-based curatorial and publishing company.
Exit Art describes itself as a "cultural laboratory," where contemporary art and culture is explored through exhibitions, publications and media projects. The center provides a forum for artists who might not otherwise be given the chance for a public audience.
The exhibition, which comes more than two months after scientists announced progress in decoding the genetic makeup of humans, features works by 39 artists addressing the implications of recent breakthroughs in genetic research.
Man and 'oncomouse'
Privacy, health, food safety, race and reproduction are among the topics covered in the exhibition of paintings, sculptures, photographs and interactive and online projects.
"Paradise Now," which runs through October 28, is divided into two parts, the first of which targets research on the human genome.
One of the five interactive computer installations created for this section by photographer Nancy Burson is "The Human Race Machine," an "interactive photo booth" that lets visitors scan their faces into a computer. It transforms their features into five ethnic variations: African, Asian, Caucasian, Latino (a) and Eastern Indian.
"The artist reminds us that there is no known gene for race and that, genetically at least, we are 99.9 percent alike," the project description says.
Also in this human genome section are a collection of children's school portraits with dogs' eyes superimposed on them, and a 6-foot (1.8-meter) sculpture of a cancer-inducing fragment of DNA.
The second section, devoted to the impact of biotechnology on animal and plant life, features Bryan Crockett's 7-foot (2.1-meter) marble sculpture of the "Oncomouse," the genetically modified rodent developed as an aid in cancer research.
Another prominent work is Eduardo Kac's "Genesis," based on a passage from the Bible's Book of Genesis. When people visit a Web site, a light box is activated, which spurs the growth of living bacteria, while viewers watch the movement via computer monitor and projector.
In the 1990s, Kac created "biotelematics," which links a biological process to computer-based technology and art.
Some scientific artifacts also will be displayed, including the metal and wire model of a DNA molecule from Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James D. Watson and a paper printout of the human genome.
"While the thrust of it, and 80 percent of it, is contemporary art, there are moments in the show when people will be able to refer to the ideas of science," Kismaric said.
As some of the works suggest, the exhibition is sure to have its provocative elements. But the curators said they have been careful to avoid injecting any bias.
"We're not coming at is with a 'This is good' or 'This is bad' point of view," Heiferman said.
"I think we're very aware that the science of genetics is something that's been going on for a long time -- the genetic modification of foods has been going on since people cultivated land. We're kind of taking the neutral position and letting the artists fall on either side of the fence, or on the fence."
The promise and perils of the human genome
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