Move 36

© Eduardo Kac

Eduardo Kac

Move 36 , ongoing
Co-workers & Funding
Move 36 was partially funded by the Creative Capital Foundation, New York.
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"Move 36" explores the permeable boundaries between the human and the nonhuman, the living and the nonliving. The title of "Move 36" refers to the dramatic chess move made by computer Deep Blue against world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997 -- a chess match between the best player that ever lived and the best player that never lived. The installation includes a plant, especially created for the work, that uses the universal computer code (called ASCII) to produce a "Cartesian" gene, that is, a translation of Descartes' ontological statement "Cogito ergo sum" into a gene. As viewers walk into the space, they see a chessboard made of sand and earth, flanked by digital projections that evoke the players in absentia. The plant is rooted precisely in the square where the computer defeated the human, that is, where the "move 36" was made.

  • aesthetics
    • installation-based
    • sculptural
  • genres
    • bioart
      • transgenic art
  • subjects
    • Arts and Visual Culture
      • poetry
    • Body and Psychology
      • humans
      • posthuman
    • Nature and Environment
      • plants
    • Technology and Innovation
      • artificial life
Technology & Material
Through genetic modification, the leaves of the plants curl. In the wild these leaves would be flat. The "Cartesian gene" was coupled with a gene that causes this sculptural mutation in the plant, so that the public can see with the naked eye that the "Cartesian gene" is expressed precisely where the curls develop and twist.

The "Cartesian gene" was produced according to a new code I created especially for the work. In 8-bit ASCII, the letter C, for example, is: 01000011. Thus, the gene is created by the following associations between genetic bases and binary digits:

A = 00

C = 01

G = 10

T = 11

The result is the following gene with fifty-two bases:


The creation of this gene is a critical and ironic gesture, since Descartes considered the human mind a "ghost in the machine" (for him the body was a "machine"). His rationalist philosophy gave new impetus both to the mind-body split (Cartesian dualism) and to the mathematical foundations of current computer technology.