"[W]hy should we still call this hair human? Doesn't it belong now to the cactus and not in a trivial sense either? Or better still, doesn't it become just a standard biological part, to use a revealing phrase from the biological engineering laboratory at MIT? In this case, as in so many others, what makes it standard is not its elemental composition but its technical transmissibility: the apotheosis of Fordism put into service as an organizing principle for life?"
Paul Lewis, The Edge Effect: Art, Science, and Ecology in a Deleuzian Century in An [Un]Likely Alliance: Thinking Environment[s] with Deleuze/Guattari
The Cactus Project (2001) is a living artwork of cacti expressing human hair. The work explores a reproductive paradox in genetic engineering - the inherent sterility of transformation processes.
The work makes use of agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer to introduce hair keratin genes into cells of cacti. Transformed cells were regenerated as engineered transgenic cacti. The aim was to have human keratins expressed in cacti cells morphologically similar to hair and for these to be produced externally.
The work was publicly exhibited for the first time in May 2002 at University of Hertfordshire, and again in July at Fresh Art (London, UK).
Why a cactus with human hair?
Genetic engineering, in particular transgenics, is a method of genetic exchange through 'anti-sexual' manipulation, by directly intervening with the natural reproductive processes (sexual) and in crossing specie boundaries.
The artwork draws on cacti's fleshy stem and swaps protective spikes with soft human hair. Metaphorically it creates an image that captures a 'perversion' of the 'asexual' and sterile engineering process. The work was subtly introduced as an intervention to the cultural climate surrounding genetic engineering in 2001.