example gene protein xyz                example gene protein xyz

Proposal documentation for a 2005 art commission contest... it survived to the final round but didn't win and the bizarre, ambitious concept was never explored further. At the time of its proposal, the line between purposeful seriousness and ridiculousness surely could not have been easily determined in my work. The above figures are examples of 2 imagined gene-meme assemblies which would have been generated through gender-specific social internet activity, the structures of which being based upon actual sex genome data (click them to see the protein structures).


XYZPDQ...a human genome turf war
Net Art proposal conceived by Steven Read

This artwork is an exploration of the biological origins and social constructs of gender language. These topics have been deeply studied for years, yet the ‘nature vs. nurture' debates are left unresolved. And now that we have cracked the human genome with computer software, the new avenues available for investigation will uncover even more complex issues.

I would like to build a networked art-making system using an approach that mashes together the nature vs. nurture possibilities of gender into one form. Once completed, this alchemy would be like an urban art system, with buildings available for all to see and graffiti upon, except that the neighborhoods are segregated by gender, and the buildings and walls become our very own DNA. If gender issues have been getting you down, don’t criticize your sex or the other’s – just go directly to the human genome and vent! The XYZPDQ website will allow for this by using:

1) the language of the genome (specifically, amino acids in the sex-determining X Y chromosomes)
2) two gender-specific, cultural translations of this genomic language

Website visitors will be able to insert their own visual ‘tag’ (digital image, color, or text) right into virtual DNA. They will be asked to tag only their respective gender, but with no enforcement. It is possible and hopeful that this rule produces an environment of gender boundary and territory. For example, one male might decide to tag the male genome with a photograph of his favorite wrestler. A female puts an image of Wonder-Woman in hers. If another, more wanton male then crosses the border and submits a flowery poem - a female might then tag the male genome with something more insidious.

This forum shall produce two separate and self-guided languages in continual flux, which are superimposed on top of the actual gene data in the X and Y genomes. These artworks will be built generatively, and the compositional forms that they will take are undetermined, but they will be software based and will avoid a mosaic layout, favoring instead something analogous to the structural forms of genes and proteins. More than likely they will be 3-dimensional and also camera-navigable.

XYZPDQ will be designed to be easy for most to use - no knowledge of biology will be necessary. To maximize accessibility, it will be Internet-browser based. A visitor could just view the artworks, or they could change them. Could this forum bring about actual biological or socio-cultural change, or would it devolve into a language and turf war?

I would like to mention that I have extensive experience with mining the human genome, and with large-scale systems, databases, and interfaces. I am confident that I can realize this piece, both as artist and software developer. I have expertise with the necessary technologies (PHP, MySql, Director, and Flash/Shockwave), and a plan for how to use them. Please help me build this project by awarding this much-needed commission.


technical overview

Once constructed, this project will be experienced through common web browsers. Besides having a fairly up-to-date browser, the only other requirement from a user’s perspective is the shockwave 10.x plug-in. The interface will be constructed mostly using CSS, HTML, and PHP 4.3.x. The shockwave portion will be for viewing the collaborative, gene-based artworks. The rest of the site will be navigated through typical HTML interfaces and forms. For instance a user navigates pages to find which gene/artwork to view, and then in view mode shockwave is loaded and the user is able to navigate within that artwork. The user can then choose to collaborate on the constantly-evolving cultural translation of the gene by tagging the language. This tagging would occur by the visitor submitting a graphic or a piece of text through the interface (unsure whether the tagging interface occurs within shockwave or html).

The structure of each gene in the system will be a design-time 3D wire-frame model built with Maya 6.x. Also at design time this model is brought into Director MX and eventually exported to Shockwave. Custom LINGO code in this layer will texture the visitor’s collaborated choices to the 3D art models at runtime.

PHP as a middle-tier will be used to facilitate most of the interface and database functionality. The database will be MySQL version 3.x. At design-time the database will be loaded with all the human genome data related to the X-Y chromosomes. Subsequent visitor translations and other data will be dynamically managed via PHP classes.


project timeline

june: engine design, site design, database modeling, human genome mining
july: construction of data logic, flash and php interfaces, business logic
august: continue the construction of all layers of software
september: begin construction of the generative art visualizations
october: continue and complete visualizations, interface, and all other components
november: test, test, and test some more
december: completion and deployment