Mutate or Die: A William S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary


Session Title:

  • Philosophy and Ethics of Bioart

Presentation Title:

  • Mutate or Die: A William S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary




  • An installation at the Grand Arts Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri

    In this paper, I propose to address key aesthetic, artistic, bioethical, and scientific issues raised in the creation of bioart works. I will be addressing these issues via a discussion about my current collaborative, bioart project, “Mutate or Die”.

    “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”   _from the Brion Gysin/W.S. Burroughs Third Mind

    My collaborative partner, Adam Zaretsky, and I will be venturing into some of the mystified representations and knowledge bases being generated by the life sciences. With this bioart project, we will address the life sciences’ enormous investment in the illusion of objective control over the biological world, and the tag team efforts of “pan-capitalism” and the bio tech industry’s privatizing genetic research and patenting life forms. This project will also chronicle my failed attempt in 1996 to get the writer William Burroughs’ DNA sequenced, and our current attempt to once again engage Burroughs’ genetic material in an artistic endeavor–this time in a speculative experiment that will involve the creation of a transgenic mutation. The public will be invited to participate in the process, specifically within the portable lab we will create in the art gallery at Grand Arts in Kansas City.

    Bioart tends to use cutting edge biotechnology as an art making device and specializes in presenting living organisms as art. In this project, a DNA sample from William S. Burroughs will be isolated, amplified and shot into the nuclei of some cells. At the core of the project will be the gene gun blast that will biolistically combine tiny pieces of William S. Burroughs’ gut flora / script/ gene text with another organism’s genetic script / gene text, to produce a transgenic mutation, or put in another way, an “intentional-genetic modification orgiastic”, or “i-GMO”. After the gene gun blast sets the mutations in motion, we will invite the audience into the process as readers / interpreters of the stories embedded within the old beat writer’s gut.

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