Banking – Sandra Thomson
A single staring animal eye; a primate’s chin; a landscape-less hyena, a primate perched on block of thawing ice.
In this new exhibition Christchurch artist Sandra Thomson uses a finely executed series of drawings to question the ethical ramifications of DNA banking – the archiving of genetic material of endangered species.
“There’s an interesting conflict in wanting a species to survive naturally but also doing what’s necessary if that natural survival is beyond repair,” she says. “One of the problems is the interference in the evolution of an animal – it stops and starts again but there are gaps which don’t allow for the nuances in changes to habitat and living within a group.”
Thomson draws her research from initiatives such as Frozen Ark run out of the University of Nottingham in the UK, one of a number of “frozen zoos” which collects and preserves the tissues, cells and DNA of endangered species. It is the animal counterpart to plant collections such as the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
While resurrecting already-extinct animals such as the mammoth the Tasmanian tiger poses huge technical challenges, properly stored frozen cells could, in theory, be used to bring back species should they go extinct in the future.
But should they?
“These frozen zoos have a reductive reasoning where they don’t see the animal as anything more than the DNA. There’s not enough focus on the culture, ecosystems and behaviours of the species; there’s not a lot of planning as to what happens next. There needs to be guidelines and regulations.”
She understands “eco-guilt” – we caused the problem so we should fix it, “but even then, we’re still playing top dog. We’re still making decisions about what’s going to be saved and how you might edit a gene – deciding where evolution goes when it’s picked up again.”
Sandra Thomson graduated from the University of Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts in 1981 and is currently teaching drawing and printmaking at Ara Institute of Canterbury. She has continued to develop her career as an artist/printmaker and has participated in a significant number of group and solo shows consistently exhibiting nationally and internationally. Sandra is a former recipient of the Olivia Spencer-Bower Award and in 2013 she had a drawing diptych selected for the Parkin Drawing Prize, NZ Academy of Fine Art, Wellington.