"Clones, Hybrids, and Techno-beasts" (2003-04):


We are living in an age of defying and manipulating nature. Breaking natural genetic, reproductive and technological boundaries, we are breeding a new species of techno and bio-engineered humans and animals. Humans will soon have the option of harvesting cells and tissues grown in animals and/or petrie dishes to replace damaged ones in our own bodies. These same damaged cells may also be replaced by nanotechnology units programmed to release chemicals as the body requires them. DNA can be plotted and traced like blue prints for buildings and babies can be made in test tubes. Knowledge of cloning our furry friends will inevitably lead to the cloning of humans. Will we eventually breed humans that can live forever: a bio-engineered super-species of identical beings that defy mortality? In Clones, Hybrids, and Techno-beasts, I am exploring the possibility of a new generation of species bred for the medical nourishment, entertainment and companionship necessities in the evolution of humans.

Throughout history the manipulating of nature has often had detrimental consequences for our delicately balanced ecosystem. Introduction of new species has wiped out others. Disease has often spread like wildfire through our uniform crops and livestock. What will the new frontiers of bio-engineering mean for the future, other than the raging ethical and religious debates is has already created? The paintings echo this sense of unease.

Some of the canvases are overpopulated with cloned white clinical animals: lab rats, mice, rabbits, inbred Dalmatians, sheep, cows, and chickens, while others house hybrids of more exotic breeds combined with mutated specimens. In one, feisty Orangu-rats fight over piles of potato chips and peanut M&Ms, whilst in another a reconstructed raccoon has tuned out to be a criminal loon, pointing a pistol at the viewer and concealing a bag of loot. In a number of the paintings, the humans that have created these bio-experiments are themselves clones, crammed into the piles in corresponding animal suits. The horror and humour are equally apparent: the real blurs into comic book style depictions ala Sci-fi, Disney and Japanimation. The animals are cute yet freakish: some hang onto balloons as if attending a giant party, others are clones gone awry. In "Hy-pets: man's best friends of the future", hybrid super-pets eerily smirk out at the viewer.

The combined comic book aesthetic with everyday reality is also explored in the army of sculptural "Techno-beasts" that stand guard in the space in front of the paintings. Following in the vein of "Technobear", "Technomice", and Technorabbit", from the work Technanimus, these beasts represent the next stage in the evolution of fictitious wild computers that have integrated themselves into the animal kingdom and are reproducing exponenetially. They are a humorous interpretation of computers taking over people's lives – mesmerizing the human race with their flickering blue hypnotic screens. The Technobeasts draw on the popular culture from my childhood influenced by Jim Henson, Alf, and Edward Gorey, as sell as the humanized computer robots explored in such movies as Short Circuit. I wanted to give each inanimate computer monitor a distinctive personality and a life of its own. This is technological evolution at its most frightening: computer as monster.

Both bodies of work have evolved out of my 2002 show entitled Rain'n'Heaps, in which I started to categorize and pile up images in an eclectic mix of art historical styles and objects. These heaps eventually tumbled out of the flatness of the canvas into the third dimension. My scientific approach of arranging objects and repeating imagery led to my interest in biological manipulation and cloning. The marriage of contradictory art forms – traditional painting techniques combined with illustrative cartoon images and postmodern found object installation – and the exploration of themes such as technology, mass media, genetic manipulation, and the plight and evolution of humans in their often hypocritical ways of life make the work a reflection of ideas that impact our fast-paced modern society.

all content © Lisa Birke 2015