Reset Dog

(Previously: The Hour Of The Analyst Dog)

A project on transgenic chronopolitics




Modulation of circadian genes is increasingly becoming a topic for the biotech industry. ‘Reset Dog’ questions how trans-species biology can protect animals from having a linear time of consumption imposed on them and help humans reset linear time.

When we closed an art exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of Freud’s death, Freud’s dog’s state of high temporal awareness in sensing the patient’s affect and its synchronicity at the sessions became a key element of our project. ‘Clock genes’ have been found to mutually synchronize pairs. The dog’s perceptions led Freud to use it as a ‘biomedium’ when talking to the patient, and the exchange of signals between Freud and his pet determined when the individual sessions terminated (Grinker 1997).

To explore this interspecies signalling we began our transgenetic venture in the Freud Museum London, harvesting the dog’s hairs woven into wool by his daughter Anna to make a water-repellent rug, a once common use. Using remaining hair follicles we sequenced one of the dog’s zeitgeber genes, and cloned it into immortalized blood cells, drawn from our collaborating Lacanian psychoanalyst to create an in-vitro synthetic timer (Elowitz Repressilator, 2004). Lacan practised non-linear time concepts with sessions of unpredictable duration. The museum’s spectators used hand- held sensors to transmit their body heat from a mediation session in order to resynchronize suitable cloned cells, previously biosafely prepared in our cooperating lab. Their GFP fluorescence was the cue for a trans-species ending of the Freud exhibition.

In a wider context this project deals with the role of animals, reminding us that certain animal temporalities are under threat when a linear time of consumption is imposed on them. It questions how modes of perception that humans ‘borrow’ from animals might be protected and respected under the aegis of synthetic biology.


Educational Aspect

Our educational project, which links one of Europe’s historically most important exports – Freudian psychoanalysis – with cutting-edge synthetic biology, focuses on sustainability, in as far it draws attention to the unconscious effects of the linear time of consumption, which has an enormous impact on society, economies and ecology. It respects different modes of time as they exist in specific human and non-human beings.


Synthetic timekeeper and engineered dreamer

‘Reset Dog’ is an interactive, transgenetic performance which reflects about hybrid time, which is synthetically created by splicing together timer genes and time experiences of different species. It is a real and a fictional laboratory process choreographed as a performance.

In ‘Reset Dog’ Spiess/Strecker genetically splice together the dog’s entrained present time with the human spectators’ ability to ‘travel in time’ to explore the capacities of animal timescapes. Man and animal begin to autopoetically process different modes of time and thus to affect the time of the performance, the respective perception of the audience and people’s general desire for hybridity as well as for immortality.

Beyond interface biodesign, ‘Reset Dog’ is a philosophical essay about changing cultural and collective memory. ‘Reset Dog’ becomes an experience of the evolution of time. The time-related flow of information between man and biofact invites the audience to contemplate the potentials of a perception of time supported by nonhuman animals. ‘Reset Dog’ also reflects how differently psychoanalysis, genetics, and re-enactment transfer the past into the present in order to conceptualize a possible future.

The extended aim of the performance and a guiding panel discussion is to connect the art, the psychiatric and the international science community on site.


Another species, another time

Above all, since its inception the science of genetics has been obsessed with the issue of time, due to its ongoing association with questions of heredity (‘generation time’). In genetic laboratories, organisms’ time-scales are continuously being changed to alter biological processes.

‘Reset Dog’ explores the interfaces of four different areas in which time is negotiated: animals’ perception of time (‘stuck in time’), neurotic time (‘frozen in time’) the unconscious with its states of dreaming (‘timelessness’), and the manipulation of time by synthetic biology. In dreaming, former experiences are recreated, even the dead appear to be alive and animals emerge with human features, with their own history. Here dreams meet genetic engineering: to revive dead cells, cells are frozen, heated, and DNA is transplanted from one species to the other.

DNA-related visions of the future are also ideologically constructed instruments of power. Reset Dog reflects this instrument within a performance arguing the chronopolitics of synthetic biology and the nature of non-human agents.


Animal timescapes in ‘Reset Dog’

‘Reset Dog’ rereads symbols and referential systems of science in the context of performance arts. In ‘Reset Dog’ genetic DNA’s capacity is understood to preserve living matter beyond trivial naturalism in introducing biosynthetic, imaginary, narrative, performative and ontological contexts linked with genetic DNA.

‘Reset Dog’s’ point of departure is the following contradiction: artistic practices as well as biological temporalities depend on simultaneities, instanteities and multisynchronicities; however, society modifies time only for linearity, duration and commodification. In Reset Dog the animal’s intensified sense of present time is genetically spliced together with the spectators’ mode of ‘travelling in time’ in order to explore new capacities of animal timescapes in an era on which linear time is exerting increasing pressure. A physical no-timescape evolving during the performance leverages random discontinuities, context-dependent temporalities, expanded and multisynchronized time. ‘Reset Dog’ also questions the tenability of culture in times of historical change. The animalistic psychoanalytical re-enactment, which imposes as having the main topic of psychoanalysis—lost human memory—becomes a symbol of the desire for wholeness and revivification as well as of the fragility of the scientific monument of past-centred psychoanalysis. Cultural and collective memory in ‘Reset Dog’ becomes a process of development. In the entanglement of different time layers during the the re-enactment development becomes tangible. Targeting the question of whether historical processes can be experienced, verified or fixed, ‘Reset Dog’ becomes a philosophical essay about changing cultural and collective memory and an experience of the evolution of time. (Excerpts from a panel discussion at Vienna’s Belvedere/21er House)


‘Reset Dog’ reframes cultural memory

In their performances Spiess/Strecker use biological relics of ‘knowing’ animals that have been key figures in relevant scenarios within the arts, sciences, philosophy and genetics. The artists salvage the animals’ DNA in order to compose bioartistic mnemonic devices that diversify cultural memory. In their preceding projects ‘Hare’s Blood Plus’ and ‘The Hour of the Analyst Dog’ Spiess/Strecker used DNA cloning to reach beyond historical routines and to introduce the synthetic genes as acting living money, as genetic timers, or in the performance on Derrida’s cat even being developed as spoken microflora that resist and subvert the historification and commodification of the animal relic and its field of origin. After having engineered a specifically responsive synthetic gene from the relic’s and a living host’s DNA, in their performances Spiess/Strecker program interfaces activate the synthetic gene as an ‘ecopolitical agent’. In ‘Reset Dog’ the chow’s gene, whose barking had served as a timer for Freud, resets a synthetic time in the performative session and reactivates the dog’s non-language-based knowledge, thus structuring the performative therapy session on site in an ecopolitical context.

In ‘Reset Dog’, when Spiess/Strecker transfer the historical connection between the animal’s genes and its habitat to the connection between the synthetic gene and an immersive audience, the living recording devices reframe history and make the animal’s past and its present mimic one another. This transference generates incomplete memory traces, advances parallel histories, and drafts speculative fictions. The relic thereby becomes an action, emerging from a combination of genetic discursive and immersive factors. Thus DNA engineering eventually becomes a non-trivial task of bringing the past back to life for an unpredictable future.


The ethics of using animal biomedia in ‘Reset Dog’

In their performances Spiess/Strecker salvage the animal’s DNA and present it as a rather striking tension between the preservation of life and its disappearance, also found within a wide range of the areas such as religion, performance documentation or biobanked cells. The aspects of DNA ownership in Spiess/Strecker’s work have provoked ethical discussions in expert circles about the inviolability of the dignity of historical monuments in arts and science, infringement of copyrights and authorship, aspects of identity and representation. Spiess/Strecker’s performances truly put historical DNA documents on trial against the backdrop of societal and technological changes.

Notably since the introduction of new biotechnologies, the animal—which since environmental theatre from the beginning of 1960s was ‘the real’ that penetrates culture—has now also come to incorporate technology. As ‘nature becomes biology, becomes genetics, through which life itself becomes reprogrammable information’, our understanding of the role of the animal as ‘the natural’ in performance has changed. ‘Reset Dog’ critically confronts the spectators with the fact that, from the early twentieth century, animals have been bred selectively for laboratory use, to create specific animals to occupy specific locations in relation to laboratory space and practice. Their development was the materialization of the demand for standardization—epitomizing the demand to be ‘more scientific’; in turn, laboratory equipment (cages, stereotaxic equipment to immobilize animals’ heads and so on) has evolved to fit standard animals, while animals are further standardized to fit the apparatus. They have, quite literally, been bred to fit the laboratory, its technologies and its practices (see Logan).

In ‘Reset Dog’ these practices materially embody a new whole set of specific practices—linguistic and material—that redefine what takes place in laboratories.

‘Reset Dog’, which narrates about an individual animal that was a protagonist in art and science history, makes it evident that using an animal relic in an experimental set-up undergoing biotechnological transformations to examine the agency of matter is a two-edged proposition. In ‘Reset Dog’ the approach to animality is not provided by an anthropocentric or even exploitative practices to gain knowledge about nature—but ‘Reset Dog’ makes humans an associative milieu to a dog’s time-based behaviour in becoming a biomedial intra-action with a dog’s gene. ‘Reset Dog’ understands performativity as a material-semiotic process in Barad’s post-human sense and makes the historical animal itself an agent in the process. As such it considers animality less as an essence than as a doing or becoming, and allows performativity to think about the complexity of human/animal interrelating as a kind of choreography, a co-creation of behaviour. In ‘Reset Dog’ the animal’s DNA evolves from materiality and discursive factors as a medial agency which deals with a new liveness stemming from a shifted threshold between dead and living. It thus strongly relates memory to the material of nature.


Documentary material, the choreography of layers of time

The performance includes the unpublished birthday poems in the name of Jofi (the dog) from Anna Freud to Sigmund and deal with Jofi’s education. It includes a documentary video shot in the Freud Museum London about the identification of the blanket into which Anna Freud wove Jofi’s hairs. Extraction of DNA and gene cloning in the lab is also integrated as documentary material and in part live on stage.

The choreographic approach aims at guiding the audience into the fictional space of the underlying scientific procedures, which will be experienced by interfaces and supported by physical choreographies. The choreographed parcours guides the spectator-performers through spaces of experience, temporal and spatial. Small groups of spectators are guided through the space at different speeds in order to generally enhance their sensitivity to space/time relations. The installation—in itself particularly real, particularly fictional—provides the markers for immersing spectators into the techno-scientific set up. Travelling between fictionally charged up states of ‘as if’, and supported by real actions, slow motion, fast forward etc. an important part of the choreography focuses on the seconds when Freud’s dog’s barking ended the session. For these seconds, performance time will become much longer than narrated time. Spectators are arranged lying on the floor around the warming cabinet. With sensors in their hands they relate to and synchronize with the cells. Different modes of time (stuck in, dreaming etc) are focused on, simultaneities, instanteities and multisynchronicities are contrasted with linearity, duration and commodification.

A real chow behind a window watches the scientists doing their cloning procedures, which provokes a ‘new materiality’ of timing, based on the genetic cloning but also on physical counting with the body (hands, tongue, instruments, materials liquids etc). It is a choreography across transdisciplinary territories of experience and thought, choreographing participative time to include the audience physically and choreograph them, but also to choreograph a space of the fictional. The evolving ritual addresses the individual as well as forming a transgression towards a temporal collective body, the body of a future society in search of appropriate rituals to deal democratically with the challenges in the emerging paradigms of biotechnologically constructed synthetic time.


Previous stagings of ‘Reset Dog’

A previous version of the performance was shown as ‘The Hour of the Analyst Dog’ in January 2015 at Vienna’s Belvedere/21er Haus, Museum of Contemporary Art. Well-known performers such as Nicholas Hoffman and Raphael Mignon took part. A panel discussion was held with discursive scientific contributions by Carola Dertnig (performance), Eveline List (psychoanalysis, contemporary history), Christine Mannhalter (genetics, bioethics), Ramon Reichert (media theory), Kurt Kotrschal (cognition biology) and Hans-Otto Thomashoff (art and psychiatry).


Publications about ‘Reset Dog’

A performance report was published by ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’ in mid 2016.