Diving Into the Gene Pool


The Interactive Art of Selective Breeding

The Exploratorium invites the public to engag e in the age-old process of making genetic selections at a new installation, "Art Life," by artist-in-residence George Gessert. "Art Life," which was developed in conjunction with the exhibition Diving Into the Gene Pool focuses on the common coleus. Th is familiar house and garden plant, which is grown as an ornamental around the world, is one of the most variable-foliage plants in existence. There are 200 or more named varieties, as well as innumerable unnamed ones. How did so many varieties of coleu s come into existence? They were created by human beings. Coleus are human-created hybrids, selected for their aesthetic qualities and ability to grow in close association with people.

"Art Life" consists of a broad sampling of coleus hybrids. The public can engage in a process of selection among these hybrids by writing comments in notebooks set up in the exhibit. Visitors are welcome to express preferences for or against particular plants, and these opinions will affect the fates of some plants : they could end up on a compost heap, which is part of the piece. Surviving plants "selected" by the public will be given away when the exhibit is over.

Art Life is an exhibition about both genetic variability in plants, and about aesthetics as a s elective force in evolution. In the words of artist-in-residence George Gessert, "Our ornamental plants, pets, sporting animals, and spice plants constitute a vast genetic art, or art involving DNA, in which aesthetic qualities determine survival. With the intervention of humans, today many urban areas have assembled flora and fauna consisting almost entirely of organisms displaced from their native habitats, or organisms that are the works of hybridizers. Very quietly hybridizers have become major int erpreters of nature, producing organisms that are simultaneously beings and "images." As we move into the era of biotechnics, an aesthetics of evolution is imaginable."

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco CA 94123