To create All That I Am, hair samples belonging to Elvis Presley were bought on eBay, and then sent to a gene sequencing lab. The sequenced DNA was used to identify different behavioural traits, which varied from sociability and athletic performance to obesity and addiction. This information was then sent to a lab, which produces transgenic (meaning it contains genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced) cloned mice, with specifically tailored genetics. The result is an ‘Elvis mouse model’, made-to-order mice clones possessing parallel traits to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Using a combination of three online services available to anyone, a strand of hair is transformed into Elvis Presley’s mouse model.
The genetically cloned mouse models of Elvis are then tested in a number of contemporary mouse model environments, cages that simulate some of the significant biographical circumstances of Elvis’ life. By exposing the mice models to similar experiences as Elvis, can they become closer to him via not only nature, but nurture too? One cage has a distorted mirror to give a false sense of selfimportance, representing the effects of fame. Another has a sloped treadmill where the mouse model runs until it falls off, symbolising Elvis’ death.
All That I Am is a speculative work that examines the cultural day-to-day interactions with emerging genetic technologies, and its ramifications on the way we choose to represent and understand life. Is it possible to quantify life through a series of conditions and events? What aspects of life are responsible for making us ourselves? Is a model more real than reality itself? Does buying a pre-owned item give someone the legal right to another individual’s genetic data? Can a mouse be Elvis? What makes us believe it can?
I’ve always been fascinated with humanity’s eternal need to quantify and define life. Be it biology or physics, philosophy or biography, psychology or fiction — from Frankenstein to ‘the God particle’. In my research I came across a private lab service that offers mice that are “genetically modified for your needs”. From that point I was just wondering whose behavioural mouse model I would like to design. That, of course, led me to eBay, the DNA sequencing labs and to historical and contemporary behaviouristic science. I’m raising questions so that we, as the general public, can get a better understanding of the issues that we’ll soon have to deal with