Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution

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MIT Press, Feb 10, 2012 - Art - 264 pages
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How humans' aesthetic perceptions have shaped other life forms, from racehorses to ornamental plants.

Humans have bred plants and animals with an eye to aesthetics for centuries: flowers are selected for colorful blossoms or luxuriant foliage; racehorses are prized for the elegance of their frames. Hybridized plants were first exhibited as fine art in 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed Edward Steichen's hybrid delphiniums. Since then, bio art has become a genre; artists work with a variety of living things, including plants, animals, bacteria, slime molds, and fungi. Many commentators have addressed the social and political concerns raised by making art out of living material. In Green Light, however, George Gessert examines the role that aesthetic perception has played in bio art and other interventions in evolution.

Gessert looks at a variety of life forms that humans have helped shape, focusing on plants—the most widely domesticated form of life and the one that has been crucial to his own work as an artist. We learn about pleasure gardens of the Aztecs, cultivated for intoxicating fragrance; the aesthetic standards promoted by national plant societies; a daffodil that looks like a rose; and praise for weeds and wildflowers.

 

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Contents

1 Divine Plants and Magical Animals
1
2 Aesthetic Effects of Domestication
11
3 The Rainforests of Domestication
21
4 The Rise of Ornamental Plants
33
5 Darwins Sublime
41
6 Playing God
47
7 Standards of Excellence
53
8 Doubles
61
14 Anthropocentrism and Genetic Art
133
15 The Angel of Extinction
143
16 Seven Breeding Complexes
153
17 The Slowest Art
171
18 Breeding for Wildness
177
Appendix 1
185
Appendix 2
191
Appendix 3
193

9 Kitsch Plants
81
10 Bastard Flowers Genetic Goofies and Freuds Bow Wows
93
11 Biotechnology in the Garden
107
12 Recent Art Involving DNA
111
13 Naming Life
125
Appendix 4
195
Notes
197
Index
219
Copyright

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About the author (2012)

George Gessert is an artist whose work focuses on the overlap between art and genetics. His exhibits often involve plants he has hybridized or documentation of breeding projects. His writings have appeared in Leonardo, Art Papers, Design Issues, Massachusetts Review, Hortus, Best American Essays 2007, Pushcart Prize XXX, and other publications.

Sean Cubitt is Professor of Film and Television at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Cinema Effect and the coeditor of Relive: Media Art Histories, both published by the MIT Press.

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