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A PostNatural History Museum
Richard Pell

Corpus Extremus (LIFE+) ends today and will be capped off later tonight with some interesting lectures, one of which will be given by Richard Pell, a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon. He will talk about his Center for PostNatural History, whose mission is “to acquire, interpret and provide access to a collection of living, preserved and documented organisms of postnatural origin.”

Pell has a couple of pieces in the show. Transgenic Organisms of New York State is “a survey of genetically modified organisms that are created, bred, or exist in the state of New York,” and Strategies in Genetic Copy Prevention catalogs and displays “examples of techniques and technologies used during the past century to prevent living organisms from reproducing.”

With his creative output, Pell is trying to reimagine the natural history museum, and by extension, questions our concept of Nature. At least to our knowledge, you don't see natural history museums organizing family-friendly exhibits of bioengineered life, let alone collecting and cataloging them. (We'll be absolutely thrilled if someone tells us otherwise.) But modified living things have been part of our physical and cultural landscape for thousands of years, more so in recent decades with our ever expanding ability to manipulate organisms. On a farm out there somewhere, wheat genetically modified to resist pests better than unadulterated strains is now growing. On a pasture out there somewhere, a clone waits until its ready for its own Dolly moment in front of the world media. On a lab out there somewhere, a biotech entrepreneur is copyrighting recombined lines of DNAs before they are released into the wilds. No natural history museums are documenting this other “natural history” with encyclopedic intensity, but as repositories of knowledge, they should.

Other Simulated Worlds

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