In genetics, mutation means every steady or hereditary change in the genetic pool that can show itself with a phenotype change depending from its characteristics and from the interaction of the environment. Therefore mutation is a base element on which the organism evolutionary process act, determining the changeability of the individual characters and at the same time defining its specificity.
The atomic age has taught us the negative consequences of radiations on the living beings, but it has also nourished many speculations about post-apocalyptic scenario where mutations might have had positive effects : the imaginations of many authors have been excited and gave birth to many characters,(very popular nowadays in the special effects movies), on which the genetic mutations are used to explain super powers and to define an advanced evolution (like the Homo superior in the X-men saga)*1
From OGM to XNA*2, the induced mutation theme *3 is very present in the nowadays society, and it is often related to concepts such as impurity, imperfection and deformity, because it is always opposed to a “normal” situation, that is to say a stability condition shared from the majority of the individuals for a long period of time.
So, in these cases, the mutation is a mistake, but here we want to go over the negative meaning of this word (also regarding the concept of “mistake”) and consider also the induced mutations with that value that have in the organism evolution, in order to celebrate the investigative potential of this wonderful renewal mean. So, as designers, we want to stimulate the organization of these means in order to be conscious controller of the project through precise mutation strategies able to create a great diversity.
At the beginning of the project, the idea has an ambiguous heritage, because it lacks of complete information, but it is also this, that makes a fecund ground on which mutations can free their huge possibilities.
When we talk about a sketch or a draft we define this incompleteness, because we describe the system with a few characters that for us are crucial in this phase. The system is described just in few parts that are part of the frame where the evolution takes place, the mutation develops the details and the detail elaboration con redefine the whole according to the given basis.
The mutation, especially when working with accidental behaviors, has the ability to create configurations that are purified from pre-concepts, and pre-vision, that is to say it allows to explore the areas of possibilities, usually hidden to our view, creating the unsuspected and unexpected.
Surprise is part of this phenomenon, and it is also an obvious invitation to abandon the Lamarckian finality, that is to say the idea to progress to a sort of perfection.
In order to stress these concepts we will refer to imagination of the director David Cronenberg, where the reality is under continuous mutation, and often the current thing status is a catastrophe, but it is also the beginning of something different, not necessary better or worse, no judgments allowed, but you need to observe what is possible with the curious glance of a child and the rationality of a scientist. “In my whole work there is the mutation topic. That is also the topic of identity and its frailty. In almost all my movies, at the beginning, the characters give the impression to be self confident and to know where they are going. They have inside a sort of arrogance: they think their future will be exactly as they have foreseen. Everyone of us has this arrogance. But when the unexpected arrives, the idea we had about reality is different and that’s chaos, the disaster. At that moment our sense of stability waves together with thetrust we had in it.
As in “naked meal” I always try to show the unique and blocked moment on which everyone of us sees what it’s on the fork’s point: that is to say the moment on which we understand that the reality is just a weak and frail possibility as all the other possibilities.”*4
In “The Fly”, Cronenberg describes the mutation in a sophisticated way. The entire story is based on the idea of “transshipment”, that represents the roots of the mutation itself, being its propulsive element. Etymologically speaking, the word mutation comes from movement, motion, so there is an intrinsic link between these two actions (transshipment and mutation), the experiment is born as a research to move a body into the space, and becomes an experience to move the body itself, a tragedy of the identity of different bodies sharing the same space.
In Cronenberg the flesh becomes ill, changes, deteriorates, gets awfully old, but it cannot be tele-transported, because the transport triggers the mutation: it is not a matter to change the body’s representation but to change the body itself. The Cronenbergian metamorphosis is slow and gradual and it is expressed in different phases: it begins with a hole in the skin, as defining an entrance of the contamination, then from inside it struggles to go outside, transforming the main character not in a fly but in something else, something different from him and from the fly, in something that is an inseparable molecular union, in which the result is not the addiction of the parts.*5
These are typical in the use of planning or scripting such as project means, where the form is a phenotype, that is to say the result of a rules’ group (algorithms) When you talk about planning, you talk about language, another big topic faced in the movie: when the main character tastes a piece of transshipped meat, used as experiment; he realizes that there is something strange and he realizes that the computer has provided a sort of interpretation, this because the computer does not know the flesh language, it supplies a simulacrum where some data are lost in the process.
The main character, Seth Brundle reminds us that “the computers know only what you tell them” and he understands the need to fill his ignorance about flesh in order to teach the computer how to read it with the purpose to tele-transport it. In the movie the computer works with the voice recognition, this emphasizes the use of language, of “saying”, in the misunderstanding between man and machine the mutation happens because he relied on a communication form which is insufficient, ancient and imprecise.*6.
The language is related to a specific physic-mental configuration of Seth Brundle, which is mutating and it excludes him from the new interaction with the computer. If he would have been melted in the
machine (with which he interacted with human language) there would have been no misunderstanding and the unintentional mutation wouldn’t have took place.
Human languages are ambiguous and have a wide range of words: writing with human language gives the author the possibility to use the ambiguity of words and to have a great flexibility in the sentence construction.These techniques allow multiple interpretation of a text and give to the author a unique voice.*7 Another way to make a mutation is to create ambiguity. Like in the case of structural ambiguity of the human language, when you say “Chiara has seen Luca in the garden with a telescope”. Who had the telescope? Luca or Chiara? To construct misunderstandings
can create different new situations. On the other hand the movie “The Thing” by John Carpenter describes a mutation through “compulsive combination”.
The Carpenter’s movie is based on a text by John W. Campbell, the main character is an alien creature that has the skill to change shape: it is called “shape-shifting” even if we could describe it better with the word “form-shifting” because in this case the mutation happens at a molecular level, it comes from inside and not on the surface.
The “thing” is indefinable , it is a continuous metamorphosis of reality that feeds the paranoid of the characters who have to face the confusion between human and alien, between real and “fiction”, or better between our reality and another reality. Many forms, no form: the creature is persistently becoming, it does not allow to imagine it, to identify it if not with everything.
No-form like every form that is on the verge of changing, which has already another form, where the time of mutation is crucial in order to create a sense of disorientation in the observer: no stability is preserved, or prolonged and this does not allow to give a name.
The identification means stability, definition, this creature is undefined because it holds many other creatures inside itself: “Since the Thing has been all over the galaxy, it could call upon anything it needed whenever it needed it”.*8 We can find something similar in the Momix shows, where there is a fusion between the two-dimensional space of the images showed on the curtain and the three-dimensional space occupied by the actors.
In addition to the artists’ fusion who create new creatures by joining two or more bodies, giving birth to new movements, that can be obtained only with that combination-fusion. It is interesting to notice that in order to melt different “spaces” it is necessary that they- bothlose information, there’s no need to take all the genetic complement: as the three-dimensional space gets thin, the two dimensional images mirror themselves. The “thing” mutation summons in the present all the forms from the past *9, it superimposes the stolen genetic material, taking the original shape if there is one.
The original form is not important. The form of this “creature” con be reduced in the idea of an order *10 Absorb! Copy! Change!
This is the form of the “thing” this is its skill, this is its action code, the first simple line of planning that allows to adapt to different situations and contexts, drawing from the configuration
catalogue sampled thanks to its encounters. The creature phagocytizes the victim, it digests it and it doubles it.
The digestion is really a decomposition and an absorption in order to arrive to the form of the victim, unless the process is interrupted. This provokes an explosion of twisted and viscid fleshes … and obviously blood, everything moves quickly superimposing different existence levels, from a dog muzzles that explode in a giant flower with canine teeth, to the head which has paws or to the stomach that becomes a huge mouth obviously toothed. The mutation is virulent, because it happens in a violent and eruptive way (from the inside).
Violent because the changed bodies are only representations ready to be melted, distorted, put in traction until laceration that shows the internal part which is extremely active, penetrating, but always from inside to outside. There isn’t a clear structure and hierarchy of the parts (bones, muscles, skin..) it exists a cohesion ready to be set up, it is the passage from the new structure to another one, a passage that defines new relationships between the external form in a mimic phase and the internal structure. In some works of the students of the master Excessive *11 directed by Hernan Diaz Alonso, it is evident that the complex system that defines a building is the result of the interaction between many formal creatures coming from continuous mutations of a primitive form.
These changes, even if maintaining the original characteristics, specialize themselves, combine themselves in something made of violent pushes. To think in terms of mutation allow us to consider
everything, it doesn’t mean to assemble or take away certain pieces but it means to set up the whole and it is always related to an evolution in specific conditions: to change in a particular moment gives a result, but the same mutation in a different moment gives a different result.
The mutation operates on the information, erasing, doubling, inverting, inserting or moving (dividing and inserting in different points) different piece of information in a system. We can consider two macro ways to intervene on the mutation. The first case is about the induced mutations, in other words in those cases where the mutant agent is external and drawn by the intention, like the creation of genetically modified plants in order to be stronger to weed killers or bugs. On the other hand the second case is about spontaneous mutations, in genetics they are related to physical-chemical processes like the DNA helix breakage due to hydrolysis or mistakes that develop during physiological processes, like the skin horns (probably due to the combination of an excessive UVA rays exposure with the skin aging).
In the plant world, the sudden lowering of the temperature, organs’ mutilations, the presence of radioactive carbon in the atmosphere ( like carbon dioxide, ultraviolet rays, or other radiation) are some of the factors that encourage mutations, they are anyway emerging phenomenon.
As we have seen the lack of data or their misunderstanding , can be the “mechanical” cause of the mutation, this suggests that the mistake can be planned. The induced and the spontaneous approach can be combined in order to set up a project selected characteristics, and at the same time it is possible to leave space to the research for casual mutation, according to the explorer theory. As for example in the neuron case: they grow in a casual way, creating continuous temporary connections that are rapidly destroyed if they are not needed, otherwise they settle.
To set up a target (the usefulness of the connection in the neuron’s case) allows to define a space for the research, that is to say a deliverable variety.
1 //http://blog.modernmechanix.com/hownuclear-radiation-can-change-our-race/ In December 1953 an article by OO Binder, in the magazine Mechanix Illustrated, titled ”How nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race” said that in case of a “Atom war”, a new mutant species of supermen could be born to assist – or dominate – the humanity.
2 //The research team lead by Vitor Pinheiro from UK Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology discovered that the genetic information can be stored and recalled from six genetic polymers different from DNA and RNA, based on xeno nucleic acid not present in nature. It is possible that inheritance and evolution are emerging skills of these polymers that are able to memorize information.
3 //The induced mutations are produced by the action of particular physical-chemical agents (mutant agents)
4 //G. Canova, “David Cronenberg”, Il Castoro Cinema, Milano, 1994, pp. 7-8.
5 //Saying that an object is not the addition of its parts, means that the result of the system will be a new configuration in comparison to its part, it will have different characteristics. For example when two molecules chemically interacts, like hydrogen and oxygen to create water: water has different characteristics from its components. Hydrogen and oxygen are gas at room temperature, while water is liquid. In addition water has different skills from its components: if you add oxygen to the fire the flame will increase, on the contrary water extinguishes the fire.
6 //(According to William Burroughs, man to be free has to free his body from the language virus).
7 //Processing: A programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists
8 //Interview to Rob Bottin, special effects technician of the movie
9 //Henri Bergson in “Saggio sui dati immediati della coscienza” makes a research about time: he proposes a research on the immediate data from the conscience, purified from everything that is superimposed. With the “directness of the data coming from the conscience” he underlines as we often interpret the interiority with space terms, superimposing the time concept (pure expression of the inside) with the space concept. Due to our continuous interaction with the external world (space) we have contaminated the interior one (time).
According to Bergson the space is something you can subdivide, you can divide it in more than one part, as the science does in its researches, and the science operates in the external world.
Bergson finds images in order to describes these dynamics. The image of a thread ball: the thread ball grows and as it grows a new thread is added without that the other disappears, it remains wrapped from the thread that it is added and the ball as a whole could not exists without that thread. The memory, the conscience and the time look like that ball because in the real time there is nothing that really loses itself. The word “duration” suggests the idea of time but also the idea of permanence. From coincidence : they “co-grow” without losing the initial parts. H. Bergson, “Essais sur les données immédiates de la conscience” 1889, tr. N. Ciusa, “Saggio sui dati immediati della coscienza”, SEI, Torino 1954.
10 //The order is the beginning. Order and origin correspond. Also in the Christian religion, God ordered to create the World. God said “ Be the light!” The order is always imperative, a powerful action, of strength. The codes, genetics, informatics are made of verbs at the imperative, they are orders, clear instructions, without ambiguity, they are minimal, just the essential and nothing more.