Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 17, 1998
Message in the Medium: Artist educates about genetic cloning
Prof. Jean Maddison spent months researching genetic cloning and finalizing her dramatic and thought-provoking conclusions. But you won't find them in a scholarly journal or textbook; instead, her research is hanging on the walls.
"This is deeply personal to me . . . it disturbs me," she said. "Look at our genetic heritage, the way conception occurs. We get 23 chromosomes from each of our parents and one little mistake, one extra gene, can create horrible deformities. I find it difficult to understand why man is tampering with our genetic legacy."
Maddison's art incorporates images related to genetic cloning, including Dolly, the sheep scientists successfully cloned, as well as DNA strands, human bones, fruit flies and developing fetuses.The works are striking both in content and size. Two of them are horizontal, about waist-high and nearly four feet long; the other is vertical, also waist-high, and about two feet wide. The magnitude of the prints makes some of the images, such as the fruit flies and close-ups of parts of the human fetus, larger than life. The impact is startling.
"There is a certain element in the work that is supposed to make you stop and think," she said. "It is not shock value, but we don't think enough about the fact that a four- to five-month fetus is a fully-formed little person -- still amazingly vulnerable -- yet here we are tampering with it."
One piece, titled Genetic Code 1, includes drawings of human hands holding playing cards. "This is the gambler, gambling with reproduction," Maddison said. "And these are the consequences," she added, motioning to images of hands with missing or fused fingers.
Another work, DNA Designs 2, features a facial image of a four-and-a half-month-old fetus holding its tiny hands by its mouth, flanked by a larger-than-life image of a fruit fly and a DNA molecule being spliced by a knife. Dolly the sheep is positioned below, straddled by a skeletal human hand and a close-up of the fetus' swirled head. Magnified fetal images also appear in DNA Designs 1, along with a picture of Dolly and a hand holding a pair of sheep-shearing scissors. "This represents the cutting and splicing of the sheep's genes," said Maddison, who studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art in Great Britain.
It was actually flowers and plants, not sheep, that helped inspire this genetic-cloning project. Maddison is a longtime admirer of Pierre Joseph Redoute, who researched and made prints of roses from China owned by the Empress of France, Josephine Bonaparte. "All the hybridization of the roses stemmed from the plants in her garden, and his engravings are the only record of the original flowers," Maddison said. "They have changed dramatically."
What has happened to flowers and plants is a reminder of what science can do, she said. The prints are Maddison's way of publishing her research, her way of educating. "It is scary stuff. It affects all of us -- all life on Earth -- and it's racing ahead at a fantastic rate."