"Dog[Lab] 01" - France Cadet

One of the most unsettling aspects of molecular biology is the ability to manipulate behaviour. Many experiments have shown that the behaviour of one animal may be placed into another. For instance, in 1999 neuroscientists altered a mouse by inserting a gene from a prairie vole, a different animal known for its fidelity and sociability. The normally solitary mice now showed the social behaviours of the gregarious prairie vole. While most of us have no idea how to even think about these issues, France Cadet has undertaken her own experiment in signification. Her Dog[LAB] project is a monstrous hybrid, merging children’s toys, hacked electronics, and social and political concerns into robotically enacted dramas. Cadet performed surgery on several robotic dogs, customized their forms, and reprogrammed them with unusual behaviours. Her new dogs are genetically manipulated animal combinations, plastic chimeras. For instance, one is the “ultimate” domestic pet, a mixture of equal parts cat and dog. This earnest Frankenpet alternately wags its tail playfully, grooms itself, does feline stretches and, eventually, falls asleep and dreams dog dreams. Another is a cowdog, and as a result is prone to robotic BSE, twitching and collapsing while whining like a sad puppy. Cadet’s work reminded some of the jurors that the more life-like robots become, the more prone they’ll be to neurosis and illness. We all admired the unusual way that Cadet addressed weighty issues of science and society while keeping her tongue well in cheek.

Chris Csikszentmihalyi