GENETICS

DollyWould // Sh!t Theatre

Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was named after Dolly Parton, the country singer, who has a theme park in America, which is near the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, which is sometimes known as a 'body farm'. Written down, the links between these things feel tenuous, but in Sh!t Theatre's DollyWould, they intermingle in a joyful and chaotic exploration of celebrity, fandom, duplication, preservation and decay.

When she was born, in 1996, Dolly the sheep had a white face, which indicated that she was indeed a clone (otherwise she would have had a black face like her surrogate mother). The research that produced her, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, was exploring ways to introduce new genes into an animal. Already by the 1980s, scientists could do this in mice by manipulating embryonic stem cells, but such cells from larger mammals were not available, so cloning was a potential alternative for enhancing livestock. Today, genome editing tools like Crispr/Cas can be used much more easily to the same effect.

Dolly the sheep was cloned from two cells: one was an egg cell, the other an adult sheep's mammary gland cell. Mammary glands produce milk, whether in ovine udders or human breasts, and this, rather than any similarity between their hair, was why she was named after Dolly Parton. Essential to human life - all mammalian life, in fact - as well as to the Parton story, breasts are an integral part of this show. Through playing clips from media interviews over the years, DollyWould notes that Parton has endured much curiosity about her body, especially her breasts (are they natural or enhanced?), her weight and her sexuality. 

Dolly the sheep died in 2003. Juxtaposing the Dollys' stories with the body farm focuses attention on death, decay and whatever comes after. As for this show and what may come after, Sh!t Theatre seem intent on following Parton's own definition of success: 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, scare 'em a little bit and then leave'.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

DollyWould - Sh!t Theatre

The Life of Dolly - Roslin Institute

Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics - Edinburgh University Library Centre for Research Collections 

What is Gene-Editing and How Does It Work? - Royal Society 

Dollywood

This Is What Happens When You Die - Mosaic

The Body Farm - Atlas Obscura

Siri // La Messe Base with Aurora Nova

The central concept of Siri, using the iOS assistant AI to fulfil a speaking role in the performance, is intriguingly complicated by the biography of Laurence Dauphinais, the actor conversing with the disembodied voice of her phone. As one of the first Canadians created by artificial insemination, Dauphinais shares some unusual certainties about her conception – exact time and place, process and design – that echo the available information about the creation of Siri by Dag Kittlaus at the SRI Artifical Intelligence Centre. Two derivations of ‘AI’ are at play in Siri, artificial insemination as well as intelligence. Continually questioning her phone to answer the deeper, more emotionally resonant questions that arise from the bare facts of her creation provokes unnerving confluences and responses from the now-familiar voice from the phone. Dauphinais plays with this, the answers that might most approach a Turing-test pass instantly undone by repeated and carefully provoked stock answers.

Fragments of songs and films are used to give Siri the illusion of personality. Familiar touchstones like the homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a reference so familiar that it is actually built into the software of Siri itself, are used alongside the autobiography of the performer to question identity, intelligence and the nature of consciousness. As artificial intelligence arrives and becomes part of our lives, these questions become even more essential. Siri provides an anthropomorphisation of external supplementary memory. She is a deferral of the responsibility to remember numbers, the layout of cities or good restaurants near me, and a step towards the normalisation of everyday AI. The performance asks what it means to create it, and to accommodate it into our lives.

Just as Kittlaus saw his creation developed by another, the anonymous donor that provided half of Dauphinais’s genetic makeup is a spectre hanging over even the most technobabble dialogue. Dauphinais recounts how her home DNA test, an increasingly common postal swab, led her to a previously unknown relative and the potential of reconnection. The performance dwells on the risks of pursuing it, asking whether Dauphinais’s biological father might feel differently to now see his anonymous donation realised in a full person as complicated as any other, just as Kittlaus might not recognise the original goals of his creation in the program we carry around today. 

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Siri - CanadaHub at Summerhall

Turing Test

Siri Development

History of Artificial Insemination in Canada

The DNA Test as Horoscope - The Atlantic

THE CONVOLUTION OF PIP AND TWIG / PEP

THE CONVOLUTION OF PIP AND TWIG / PEP

Cryptophasia is the phenomenon of a language developed by twins. At the start of The Convolution of Pip and Twig the consistent, unintelligible muttering suggest these two are among the 50% of twins who have created their personal idioglossia; an idiosyncratic and essentially private language invented and spoken by only a couple of people.

GMO: GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM / Act One

GMO: GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM / Act One

GMO: Genetically Modified Organism takes the form of a trial, with the audience as the jury. Not a new idea - Ayn Rand was an early pioneer with a play called Night of January 16th - it is an appropriate choice for a show that wants to put across arguments on both sides of an issue, in this case editing of the human genome, and make the audience choose which is right.

ON EGO BY MICK GORDON / Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective

ON EGO BY MICK GORDON / Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective

Mick Gordon’s 2005 play, On Ego, made in collaboration with Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist, poses philosophical questions about selfhood. It plays with teleportation to create a doubled character, Alex, and asks whether the original or the copy is the more ‘Alex’.