Sunday, 2 September 2012

Animal Instinct

Over coffee recently with a forensic archaeologist the subject of DNA came up. She's researching how DNA is being used in the creation of national identity through the establishment of relationships between the living and war dead. It made me think about the possibilities of the use of Elvis's DNA. The amount of his hair going around, bogus or authenticated, as documented in auction posts (see labels), means that somewhere in the not so distant future we might get a glut of Elvis cloned creatures, exploited for all manner of purposes in the unregulated aether. Having your own bit of Elvis with which to build your fantasy relationships becomes a realistic possibility.... Of course, I'm not the first to think of this.
Elvis as a mouse
Koby Barhad, grad student at the Royal College of Art here in London and part of kn-studio, has modeled the possible recreation of Elvis as a mouse and the subsequent channeling of the Elvis mouse's life. In All That I Am, Barhad proposes that three products and processes available online to all comers could bring the Elvis mouse about, and asks questions about the veracity of such an event. Barhad's portion of Elvis hair was attained from ebay at the grand cost of $22. He asks, 'Does buying a pre-owned item gives one the legal right to another individual's genetic data?' I might add to that, hocking a guy's used pants around just isn't cricket.

The project design: 

From a speck of hair to a mouse model.

A combination of three online services can make this project possible.

Hair samples of Elvis Presley, bought on ebay were sent to a gene sequencing lab to identify different behavioural traits (varied from sociability, athletic performance to obesity and addiction). Using this information, transgenic mice clones with parallel traits were produced. The genetically cloned models of Elvis (in this case) are tested in a collection of various contemporary scientific mouse model environments, simulating some of the significant biographical circumstances of his life.

Is it possible to quantify our life through a series of conditions and events? What are the aspects of life that are responsible in making us ourselves?  

Does buying a pre-owned item gives one the legal right to another individual's genetic data?
Can mouse models of ourselves help us prepare for possible futures or will it impose them on us?
Will we make different choices Re-living the same life?
Can a mouse be Elvis? What makes you believe it can be? 

Barhad's socially engineering mouse house has been specially designed to replicate Elvis's life conditions to ensure that the Elvis mouse doesn't just look like Elvis but behaves like him too. The mouse will grow up in poverty with the love of his mother (whom he will be cruelly bereaved of later...), will have his army years simulated, and lastly will work himself to death on a treadmill.
Childhood model
Barhad's realised mouse house has been on display at the RCA, his submission as part of the RCA's Design Interactions programme through which artists explore the possibilities of technical futures. It's attained a fair bit of press interest, including a number of reports such as this one, which claim that Barhad has actually engineered Elvis as a mouse. Sadly he hasn't. But he can. 
Mouse house
Thanks: artists. Especially Koby Barhad. Archaeologists. Especially Layla.

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