THE BIOTECHNOLOGY ZONE was first exhibited during December 1993 at Artists' Television Access/A.T.A. Gallery, San Francisco CA. It was later exhibited at the Anon Salon, San Francisco, October 27 1994. Its display was accompanied by a performance by the Detroit Devils' Night (Lance Jackson and Mike Mosher). Exhibition at the Sandcrawler, Oakland, for the three-day Subversive Science Fair in November 1998 marked its third public exhibition.
Unlike most 1990s works by the artist, the kiosks such as "DevilsFood Daniel" (1993), "Flight Paths" (1997) or the VR kiosk "PosadaSpace" (1998), there are no computers involved in the development or display of the piece. Instead the mural-sized wall installation is painted by hand upon sheets of Rufco-Wrap construction plastic with Politec mural acrylics.
The walls are suffused with the artist's visual/textual meditations on genetically-altered foods, animals and diseases, with a Mission street scene peppered with the strange neologisms that are biotech corporate names. Factual information (pig-gene tomatoes really exist!) and the artist's own fantasies, projections and opinions are interwoven, purposely difficult to separate.
THE BIOTECHNOLOGY ZONE was inspired by a plan to concentrate biotechnology in the north end of the San Francisco neighborhood called theMission. The Mission is rich with personal associations for Mike, having lived in a Clarion Alley loft from 1981 through 1984. His "Mission Reds at Woodwards' Gardens" mural was on a Albion street (five blocks from A.T.A.) from 1982-87, and he exhibited mural-sized paintings on paper in 1983 at the Mission Cultural Center. "This neighborhood should encourage and engineer its expressive culture--not biological", the artist grumbles.
This piece is an example of an environmentally-scaled wall comic. Mike's most prominent work in this manner is the1998 digital cartoon mural cycle "Market Street Carnival" on San Francisco history in the lobby of the Grant Building, 1095 Market Street, full of personages from S.F. labor, political scandal and vaudeville 1880-1930. In that work, ink drawings 8" x 12" and 9" x 8" were scanned into the Macintosh and tinted sepia in PhotoShop, then output on vinyl fabric 8' x 12' and 9' x 8' by billboard printer Metromedia Technologies of Los Angeles. Yet Mike has also done installations where figures were drawn in paint on walls, including "Image Sink" (1981) in the SFSU Art Dept. Phone Booth Gallery and "Escaping San Francisco" (1987)--painted with William T. Witter--at the Lab Gallery, San Francisco.
Mike Mosher believes that there are conceptual and logical linkages between the media of comics, community murals and computer media (hypertext and networked multimedia) that it is the contemporary artist's duty to explore and develop. In scale and attitude THE BIOTECHNOLOGY ZONE resembles a community mural. Though the work of a single artist (with a couple figures contributed by Lance Jackson), it is attentive to the political context of a specific community-San Francisco's Mission, Mike's home 1981-84-and political policies affecting it. And works this complex, demanding physical navigation around the room to read it, also suggest a densely-informational website.
Scientific information can be presented clearly in comics format, the economy of line and color supporting the concepts to be learned. In 1987 Mike Mosher illustrated the LIGHTNING! show at the California Academy of Sciences, transforming a narrow corridor into a comic-book-like environment. Educational comics like the Lufikin Rule Company's "The Story of Measurement" were sometimes distributed in elementary schools when Mike was a kid, "Ripley's Belive It Or Not" appeared in Sunday newspapers, and Classics Illustrated comics were often the only kind purchased by parents for their children.
Political cartooning is a venerable old tradition. Cartoons of the 18th and 19th centuries-or satirical engravings on broadsheets in the two centuries preceding with critical political content-were visually more complex, containing more centers of attention, than the single-image Editorial Page "soundbite" cartoons prevalent in our time. There is also a body of critical science cartooning, from Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guides and Cartoon History of the Universe, EduComics by Leonard Rifas, to books like DNA for Beginners.
THE BIOTECHNOLOGY ZONE attempts to straddle or synthesize several traditions upon its urban industrial material substrate. As it sounds the artist's alarm about strange and potentially dangerous doings in laboratories, perhaps some day its concerns will appear quaint if all people are living in safe and healthy environments. Until then, grand scientific and socio-scientific schemes will warrant the scrutiny of-and perhaps sometimes the subversion by-all outraged citizens and artists.
Biotechnology Zone video window installation,