"Wild-type Mutant"
The Wilding of Artificial Nature

The Anthropocene is a new geological age proposed in 2000 by Paul Jozef Crutzen, a Dutch atmospheric chemist known for his research on the ozone hole. It is defined as the period following the Holocene in which the human population has expanded and developed, transforming the environment on a global scale through agriculture and industrialization.

I will not describe this new era in detail because many books have already done so, but I will note one aspect that causes me great concern—the control of life itself. Although ordinary people have little knowledge of what is currently taking place on the cutting edge of the life sciences, there are concerns that greater understanding of the human genome will lead not only to presymptomatic diagnosis of illnesses, but ultimately, through genetic testing of fetuses, to the pernicious return of eugenics.

Taking into consideration the many unprecedented leaps in science and technology that humanity has accomplished thus far, it is not hard to imagine that once such an undertaking begins, it will soon extend to the control of all life on Earth. We know that scientists have already succeeded in incorporating computer programming into living cells, and there are countless other examples of technologies that we once thought were the sole domain of science fiction films becoming reality, such as robots made of organic materials and tiny spy devices made to resemble insects. As we head further into Earth’s sixth mass extinction, the boundary between human-made artifacts and nature is fast disappearing.    

I imagine, and fear, that as science and technology continue to advance, nearly all natural forms will be “manipulated” or “produced” by artificial designs and processes. When this “artificial nature” reaches a certain volume, I suspect manipulated and produced life forms will escape the grasp of their human makers and become wild, leading to the fundamental collapse of the ecosystems that have existed thus far. 

 Biotechnology has rendered the boundary between species ambiguous and introduced the possibility that living beings may take on entirely new forms. This will likely overturn current bioethics and philosophies of nature. As this slow but drastic transformation unfolds, what will the meaning of our species’ existence on Earth be within these new ecosystems? Indeed, what will become of us as a species?    

These personal reflections form the basis for the present series, in which I attempt to depict mutant life forms—that is, genetically manipulated animals that have escaped into the wild. We are organisms living on the planet Earth, and we must treat our one and only home with devout awe, respect, and deference. In a future project, I hope to depict the differences between the internal workings of these mutants created according to human will and then released into the wild as compared with the wild creatures that have existed thus far. 

*In the end, I would like to acknowledge the one of the inspiration for this project that I received from Vincent Fournier’s series of photographs, “Post Natural History” .

                                                                                                                             -Eriko Kaniwa

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