May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Oncomouse by K-PÉ, 2013, oil on board

This small, round painting in oil on board is typical of the provocative work created by street artist K-PÉ. Entitled ‘Oncomouse’, the painting has resulted from a process that the artist refers to as “in-appropriation”; it is made using materials and techniques that he has borrowed from the tradition of icon painting.

The OncoMouse or Harvard Mouse is a type of laboratory mouse that has been genetically modified using modifications designed by Philip Leder and Timothy A Stewart of Harvard University to carry a specific gene called an activated oncogene (v-Ha-ras under the control of the mouse mammary tumour virus promoter). The activated oncogene significantly increases the mouse’s susceptibility to cancer, and thus makes the mouse suitable for cancer research. The rights to the invention were owned by Dupont until recently. The USPTO found that the patent expired in 2005, which means that the Oncomouse is now free for use by other parties (although the name is not, as “OncoMouse” is a registered trademark).

Patent applications on the OncoMouse were filed back in the mid-1980s in numerous countries such as in the United States, in Canada, in Europe through the European Patent Office (EPO), and in Japan.

“Depending on the source of information, we are led to believe that humans share between 95 and 99% of our DNA with mice. This shared set of genes is what makes research on what scientists call the ‘mouse model’ effective. What I wanted to do is make an experiment. I wanted to transfer this “OncoMouse” gene into the DNA of  a very famous mouse – the world’s most famous mouse – and see what happened as a result.”

K-PÉ (from artist’s statement)

Mickey Mouse is an animal cartoon character created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, the Academy Award winning animator, at the Walt Disney Studios. Mickey is an anthropomorphic mouse who typically wears red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves. As the official mascot of The Walt Disney Company, Mickey is one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in the world.

Mickey first was seen in a single test screening (Plane Crazy) but officially debuted in the short film Steamboat Willie (1928), one of the first sound cartoons. He went on to appear in over 130 films including The Band Concert (1935), Brave Little Tailor (1938), and Fantasia (1940). Mickey appeared primarily in short films, but also occasionally in feature-length films. Nine of Mickey’s cartoons were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, one of which, Lend a Paw, won the award in 1942. In 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“What interests me most about this Mickey character is the fact that he is a little machine designed to be replicated. He works on a system of easily drawn curves – you can find instructions on how to do this, no problem, if you look and the early animators were fully versed in this code … he has his own graphic DNA, if you like, that is easily reproduced, within a complex system that gives him life. That’s what animation means: the state of being full of life or vigour. In 1941 – before the famous animator’s strike that tarnished Walt’s reputation – there were about 1200 artists making drawings at Walt Disney Studios. It was one of the biggest machines for making art that the world has ever seen. The Disney studio was a very well organised labour force – like an organism – with each part having its role to play. My Oncomouse might be seen to have introduced a troubling note of disease into that organism …

What the actual OncoMouse says about human greed, cruelty and the scientists that tried to capitalise on it doesn’t really need any further explanation from by me.”

K-PÉ (from artist’s statement)


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