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'Paradise Now' is a visual critique of DNA advances


It was sparked with the birth of Dolly the sheep.

It was fueled when CC, the "carbon copy" kitten, made headlines.

And now the fiery debate over cloning has been stoked once again with this month's announcement that a South Korean scientist successfully cloned a human embryo.

For years, scientists' use of DNA replication and other genetic engineering technology has spurred worldwide and well-publicized ethical debates between biotechnology businesses, religious organizations and politicians. But these groups weren't the only ones involved in the dialogue.

Visual artists also made an impact in the public's understanding of these advances. And today, an exhibition focuses on their contribution.

Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution is a touring show that uses dozens of works to address the progression and effects of genetic science and modern technology.

Currently on display at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Center for Art and Visual Culture, the exhibition was organized in 2000 by New York City gallery Exit Art and has been shown at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Tulane University in New Orleans.

The Baltimore portion of the exhibit features the works of nearly three dozen artists, including graphic, abstract and photographic pieces that explore the shrinking gap between science and imagination.

In The Farm, painter Alexis Rockman uses planted fields as a background for her composition that displays dysmorphic animals and vegetables as evidence of the movement's practical applications.

Six-winged chickens, misshapen produce and grossly oversized livestock speckle the foreground of the colorful work that serves not only as commentary, but as a visual narration of groundbreaking events.

Co-curators Marvin Heiferman and Carol Kismaric balanced the overt visual critique characterized in Rockman's piece with more subtle appraisals presented in the works of artists such as Laura Stein.

Her 1996 photograph, Smile Tomato, is a closeup portrait of a whole and ripe fruit, its skin altered and compressed in some areas to give the food a human face and an air of anthropomorphism.

As the sole subject of the work, the cheery, smiling tomato - strangely charming and slightly sinister - stands as a thought-provoking symbol that illustrates the myriad of the exchanges, both positive and negative, that result from a convergence of nature, science and society.

Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution will be on display through March 13.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County's Center for Art and Visual Culture is in the Fine Arts Building at 1000 Hilltop Circle. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Call 410-455-ARTS or visit www.umbc.edu/cavc.

For more art events, see page 36.

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