Prologue to East of Eden. A Garden Show. The Zentrum Paul Klee dedicates its first temporary exhibition in 2008 to creation. It is a topic that plays a central role in art and genetics. Our project is based on a concept designed in cooperation with the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, The Netherlands, expanded for the Zentrum Paul Klee.
Connections with Paul Klee's work are self-evident: the term «genesis» and the theme of creation are central to Klee's thinking and oeuvre. The artist saw himself as a creator directing the genesis of his works. His method may be compared to that of a scientist: having explored natural or geometric structures in detail, he followed specific rules in the transfer to his medium, i.e. drawing or painting. In his writings Paul Klee also expressed himself on the relationship between science and the fine arts.
Based on the pieces presented at the Centraal Museum, the Berne show will provide a new perspective, focusing on methodological kinships between the avant-gardes in art and in genetic research. Similar evolutionary lines can be traced in both fields: at the beginning stands a break with obsolete orthodoxies; Homo novus studies and analyses the world with new eyes. This research produces new theories, which tend to become dogmas. However, as life is too complex both in terms of scientific codes and the «-isms» of art, these new dogmas are questioned in their turn. Artists and scientists therefore seek ways in which they can relax their systems to confront chaos anew and finding novel approaches to dealing with the complexity of the human condition.
Guided by innovative methodology, the visitor can explore the evolution of genetic research and the ways in which artists have tried to come to terms with modern genetics. On show are works of art and scientific objects that are the result of similar work processes. The exhibition emphasises parallel developments and interactions in artistic and scientific methodologies. The focus of attention is on the creative, productive process at work in both genres. «Genesis», «Analysis», « Code», «Playing Games» and «Chaos» – these are the five dramatic focal points of this exhibition. They connect and combine scientific and artistic aspects of genetics and creation in a dramatically designed presentation of paintings, interactive installations, light installations, video projections, cartoons, photographs and sculptures by international artists such as Mona Hatoum, Ross Bleckner, Mark Francis, Chuck Close, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Marcel Duchamp, Dieter Roth and Mark Dion. These heterogeneous exhibits will convey the most significant research results of the 20th and 21st centuries, placing them in an artistic context that confirms this issue's relevance to society, its wide emotional spectrum and its decade-long, unchanging political importance.
Illustrations from the Bible and books of medical history that reach back to antiquity will highlight differences in representing the creation of man. However, the term of «genesis» relates not only to the creation of man. In art it also refers to the creation of forms. Concepts by Paul Klee, Joseph Beuys and Rudolf Steiner will provide striking examples of this aspect. Mona Hatoum's video installation, Corps étranger, will provide the transition to the next section: using an endoscopic camera, she explores the surface and the interior labyrinth of her own body.
Scientific curiosity has long driven the search for explanations of how the human body works. To understand this, its interior had to be analysed. In the early 19th century the cell was discovered to be the smallest living unit in the human body and in plants. We place scientific representations of cell structures next to works by, for example, Ross Bleckner, Mark Francis and Jasper Johns to evoke associations and reveal aesthetic parallels in art and science. Notes and drawings by Paul Klee, and Marcel Duchamp's analysis of one metre in Trois stoppages étalon, refer to similar methodologies in the analysis of units.
In 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson discovered DNA's double-helix structure. Scientific representations of DNA have inspired works of art by Dennis Ashbaugh and Jaq Chartier – their iconographic common ground is evident. The «central dogma of genetics» formulated by Francis Crick in 1957, i.e. that DNA produces RNA, which produces proteins – in other words, living organisms consist of genes that define their characteristics – has raised new questions concerning individual identity: «If the code is cracked, can I be «copied»?» Portraits by Chuck Close and DNA portraits by Marc Quinn, Gary Schneider, Thomas Kovachevich, Larry Miller and others will address this issue. The discovery of the genetic code would have been unthinkable without the prior transformation of information into computer code. Art from various periods and in various media – works by Piet Mondrian, Dieter Roth's stamp alphabet, Mundunculum, and Eduardo Kac's installation, Genesis, among others – will demonstrate code's crucial relevance to art.
Genetic manipulation owes itself to the development of cloning techniques. Science fiction 'documentaries' by Floris Kaayk satirise these new possibilities and show that biotechnology raises both hopes and fears. The traditional motif of the chimera has seen a renaissance. In the past, chimeras stood for the freakishness of nature in the course of evolution, testifying to the triumph of nature over man. Paradoxically, today's versions express the opposite, namely the triumph of man over nature. They also represent visions of the New Man. Representations of chimeras from various periods underscore art's and science's lasting fascination with this topic.
Reality has proven to be more complex than Life Sciences' central dogma. To explore and understand life and its processes, scientists have returned to the study of networks. Tremor, an installation by Kathleen Rogers, will focus on experiments with zebra fish. Interestingly, cells are once again the objects of manipulation. Mark Dion's perfect imitation or 'clone' of a biotechnology laboratory for our exhibition not only refers to the locus operandi of these interventions, it also symbolises the «chaos» that still exists.