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A Rose for Mars
updated by Laura Cinti - 05 May 2007

A Rose for Mars involves genetically engineering a rose for an extreme environment with the aim to sustain life on Mars. The project also suggests looking at opportunities to further transplant these roses using ongoing or future space missions. By entering a long term research into astrobiology in conjunction with art we are investigating what might be or become interstellar specie. The initial research would revolve more around alienisms, symbolism, ornamentation and culture. It might not come as a surprise, that the concept of creating life on Mars is already a field of research currently explored by both NASA and ESA, who are also looking for projects as soon as 2007 for Mars Missions (Scout Missions). Currently, several organisms are considered by NASA. A Rose for Mars offers a pathway to investigate these ideas and also includes symbolical and cultural aspects that can be explored through the use of genetically modifying a rose, not just to better cope with stress of this type (radiation, lack of oxygen, water deficiency, and light conditions) but perhaps to thrive in these conditions. From an ornamental perspective one might ask what would such a plant look like…would it still have petals? Would there be changes to its colorations? And so on…in such a case what does this change in ornamentation tell us? Genetic engineering has a whole spectre of links to monstrosity most clearly expressed through ideas from Nazi Germany, but also in avenues of environmentalist activism, the media and fiction. Genetically modified organism (GMO) has however now become a model of the perfect industrious machinery whose lush ripening tomatoes grows as an Aristotelian ideal to its counterpart, the natural. For roses themselves, the dream was also fulfilled through genetic engineering when Moon dust finally appeared with its blue petals giving a boost to the further ornamental use of genetic engineering in an industrial sense. Dreaming of a rose for Mars is a rather naïve delve into symbolic and perhaps visual imagery, but it doesn’t offer any consolation in terms of beauty – it’s poetic imagery merges with the harsh conditions of its destination and the alien is created. Aliens are of course ugly and our relations to them from a cultural aspect, often take form as humanoids, with either too many or too few limbs or organs. Our culture is a constant producer of ideas, imagery and language – we force new meanings onto old, opening networks and connections between. Artists are also part of channelling this through works, writings and discussions. What does it mean to create life for Mars? What kind of life are we talking about? Is our goal to make Mars habitable?  Unless life is found, our only option seems to have a Mars which would be, if not totally, genetically engineered (GE). Does this change anything? As the search for life is still ongoing, the inter-planetary treaty is still strict on contamination of Mars, but if Mars was found to be dead, this would open the field for future transplantations.  

What is essential is invisible to the eye. (Chapter XXI, Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)

© c-lab 2005, a rose for mars


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