Ouroboros originates from the Greek, oura – ‘tail’ and boros – ‘eating’. The symbol of a dragon or serpent eating its own tail is ubiquitous throughout world history. Found in texts and imagery as far back as 3000 years ago, the ouroboros has been noted in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Hindu cultures. One of the earliest depictions is found in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld found at Tutankhamun’s tomb (Hornung & Lorton, 1999). Plato’s character, Timaeus describes the cosmos in the manner of a circular creation that eats its own waste and the symbol of the ouroboros has frequently been associated with alchemy since appearing in The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra (Beyer, 2017).
Ouroboros (2015) takes its inspiration from the DNA plasmid. The plasmid is described as a circular piece of DNA that floats freely within the body of the bacterial cell, not within the chromosomal DNA of the cell. This means that it is not considered to be a part of the core genetic information within the cell, yet it does contain genetic information and is passed on when the cell replicates. DNA plasmids are found within bacterial DNA and yeast and not within mammalian cells, although in genetic modification, they have been used as mechanisms for delivery of genetic information within mammalian cells.
The plasmid is not a circle. That is an abstract form. The plasmid is a continuous section of DNA, with no start or end. One can imagine that it may take on a variety of forms as it changes position within the cell body, or perhaps it does not move at all, but this is unlikely given that no two images of plasmid DNA that I have seen look the same. Ouroboros was created as a GIF so that motion of the plasmid is suggested. The text is comprised of appropriated text, cut and paste from news and journal headlines with a biotechnology theme. The text has no start or end and as such, can be read as a poem beginning at any point and ending at any point, or read continually and indefinitely.
If DNA is the language of life then how might it evolve? Are our actions in the world imposition and intervention, are they chance, or a little of both? Life-Collage explores the material of DNA through the practice of collage to raise new questions on our approaches to working with living or lively materials. Artist Brion Gysin announced that writing was 50 years behind painting and proposed the cut-up technique as a literary collage method to re-dress the balance. Today the same principle is applied in synthetic biology to cut and splice DNA, collaging new forms of life by cutting and pasting genes from one species to another.
The button below links to the languageisavirus website, where the cut-up technique developed by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin can be used to work with words as you might with DNA, or with DNA as you might with words, to create a life-collage. See also the Genophone for more life-collage.
'The living being had no need of eyes because there was nothing outside of him to be seen; nor of ears because there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he created thus; his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself […] and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle.'
(Plato, circa 360BC)