Human-plant hybrids proposed in new exhibition

Can you imagine a world where your strawberries contain the DNA of your grandfather or your roses contain the genes of other loved ones? 

The possibility of such a world is imagined in a ground-breaking art exhibition going on display at the University of Dundee next week.

Spirit Molecule I, which opens to the public at LifeSpace Gallery on Thursday 4 October, is a new collaboration between the internationally renowned artists Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Phillip Andrew Lewis.

The exhibition has been inspired by the greater understanding we have of DNA as an individual identifying marker, and the more widespread access to tools to manipulate it.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, said, “Although humans and plants share some genes in common, this art and design project envisages a future in which memorial plants could be tended, and in some cases, harvested and consumed, by a friend, family member or admirer, in remembrance of a lost loved one.

“Spirit Molecule I takes the viewer on a journey to a future where such an intimate DIY activity is possible.”

Phillip Andrew Lewis, an artist who is also a botanist and interested in the overlap between science and magic, said the pair consulted with scientists from the James Hutton Institute and studied the University of Dundee’s Botanic Garden to better understand current plant genetic research and local flora.

The exhibition opens at the LifeSpace Gallery on Thursday 4 October at 5pm with a talk from the curator Sarah Cook. 

Sarah said, “How we choose to remember our lost loved ones is a personal act, and nothing is more personal than our DNA. 

“But are there possibilities to pass that DNA material into the future in different forms, and what might those forms be? As scientific techniques evolve, and despite different regulatory frameworks existing in different countries (for genetically modified or genetically engineered organisms), it is not so far-fetched to imagine drinking a cup of tea brewed from the leaves of a plant that has been cross-bred with personal biological material.

Spirit Molecule I questions our current beliefs and opens up a space for us to think differently about how scientific developments affect what we take as acceptable practices or not.”

The ongoing project has been part funded and co-commissioned by Dundee’s NEoN Digital Arts Festival and The Science Center in Philadelphia, United States of America. Spirit Molecule I was created in partnership with the University of Dundee Botanic Garden.