Hybrid : an interspecies opera (2022)
Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is no stranger to MU's bio art & design programme. She works at the intersection of art and biology, almost like a detective tackling intriguing questions about biotechnology that are not only philosophical and scientific, but always highly political.
For her latest project Hybrid, she connects the ancient history of wild boar domestication, which began 10 millennia ago, with contemporary xenotransplantation, the science in which we genetically manipulate pigs to create transplantable hearts for humans.
Hybrid has three parts, the main one being a five-chapter documentary that unfolds like an opera set to an original score by composer Bethany Barrett. The libretto is constructed from the words of key scientists involved in this new field of research and archaeologists studying the origins of domestication, based on original interviews conducted by the artist. The key question here is whether the application of CRISPR to pigs represents a radical break or rather a continuation of millennia-old practices of selective breeding.
At the end of the film, the artist creates a series of memorial sculptures for the pigs we see on screen whose lives are being taken to advance science and possibly save human lives. Using digital imaging and printing techniques, we see the robotic construction of a clay sculpture that bursts into flames as it is fired in a pit in the ground using the earliest ceramic methods. Three such ceramic pigs stand a little further on a plinth in the room, opposite three animated future pigs, which, like the film libretto, are based on interviews with biologists and archaeologists.
These animations show what continued domestication and selective breeding processes can lead to. From a pig the size of a cow, capable of carrying a litter of more than 30 piglets, to a micro-pig, bred for biomedical purposes with the added bonus of being cute pets, to a pig with decreasing snout size and a pig face that is getting closer and closer to humans.
In Hybrid, antiquity and high-tech meet in a three-part installation that goes beyond mere education and lets audiences feel the dramatic weight of these new technologies, their complexity and long history. The result is an impressionistic look at a biomedical field with huge implications for ethics, aesthetics and the fluctuating state of human/non-human relationships.
CGI design & animation: Michel Wielick