Genetically modified Lille Havfrue

I’m sitting overlooking Copenhagen harbor right now, and I wanted to give you a bit of a travelogue–and I swear it is genetics-related. Years ago I studied Danish, and I have always been dying to actually come to Denmark and hear it spoken. Of course I also wanted to see the sights, which include The Little Mermaid (and yes, she is as underwhelming as the guidebooks say). But in my guidebook I see this intriguing tidbit:

Langelinje is blessed with a variety of statues and monuments–the latest addition is ‘The Genetically Modified Paradise‘ (2006) by Bjørn Nørgaard. Most of the work is in a fountain on the wharf (behind the old promenade building on Dahlerups Square), but one sculpture, ‘The Genetically Modified Mermaid’ has been placed in the water basin itself.

–from Copenhagen Tourist Øresund/Beyond, www.chp-tourist.dk

Of course–this I had to see! And it is true, there she is….gen_mod_mermaid_mine.jpgShe is a Picasso-esque sculpture, sitting right there in the water. I’m struggling to understand how it is possible that the original mermaid wasn’t some kind of genetic…ah…modification. But apparently this artist believed she needed more. I actually rather like the sculpture. And I have to say that this work had exactly the intended consequence: the friend I was travelling with (also a scientist) and I had an argument about this representation of genetic modification as a bizarre and scary outcome. My friend said that this didn’t help us–that it makes us look like psychos trying to create freakish and dangerous new organisms. But I said that we (as scientists) aren’t presenting our case well enough to explain what the benefits of many aspects of science could be (while fully understanding the risks of manipulations). We had a major discussion about communication of science to non-scientists, and when it has gone well and when it has gone awry.

So the work was effective. And even though I do think it paints us badly (the pregnant man sculpture was also rather provocative–and the representations of Christ, and Adam & Eve…well, let’s say that the public outcry in the US against these would prevent the work’s display…) I think that art can drive this conversation and it is useful in that way.

Hence, I offer you the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid. Discuss.

Here’s a link to an article that cover the sculptures: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/story/2006/09/15/mermaid-genetic.html

A better photo than the one on my iPhone: http://www.flickr.com/photos/japajoe/2556419719/

A link to a photo series of all the sculptures in Det Genmodificerede Paradis: http://www.dr.dk/P2/Kunstmagasinet/Billedgallerier/ParadisetOpstilles.htm And click Næste to move forward and see the images–The Pregnant Man is number 10. (may be NSFW if you work for certain…ah…conservative employers)

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