Tech Flesh 3: The Hexterminators
CTheory: Can you tell us a little bit about the Hexterminators'
strategies towards intervening in the legal and economic issues surrounding
Biogrrrl: We are artist-agitators and interventionists, continuously
developing, evolving and extending multiple strategies of interference to
disrupt, subvert and expose the biotechnology industry. As artists on the street
level we can generate laughter about the absurdity of biotech greed through
street theatre, actions, web publishing, radio theatre and other forms,
transforming outrage and passion toward combating the bio-buffoons into a
concrete alternative in which communities create the game, not billion-dollar
Super Rat Grrrl: Our primary tactic is to create a disruptive force
that calls into question the patenting of our food supply and the complex web of
the biotechnology industry. Our choice of media remains fluid to better serve
the occasion at hand. An example is our disruption of Monsanto Corporation's
presentation of all the "wonders" of genetically engineered cotton to textile
buyers at a cotton conference in one of San Francisco's most elegant and
exclusive hotels. They forgot, of course, to mention the disaster of their Bt
The Hexterminator: We picked up where others failed and remonstrated
the entire conference with a fashion show they would never forget. Wearing
extraordinary 'one of a kind' outfits displaying the finest designs in cotton,
irresistibly complemented with red biohazard symbols, we sashayed to the front
and reclaimed the podium. Shouting, "I'd rather go naked than wear GE cotton!"
we slowly stripped off our Hazardous Cotton Outfits.
Super Rat Grrrl: A constant in our strategy has been the use of
costume. Our costumes can range from outrageous to extremely conservative in
order to blend in with the surroundings, making us seem almost invisible, up
until, let's say, the moment a pie is thrown. To paraphrase Manuel Castells;
"Costumes and witchcraft are precisely what is needed to walk between the
uncertain boundaries of society."
The Hexterminator: And we walk those boundaries in the guise of
superheroes, appearing where least expected, with our glaring genetic errors on
view for the genetix freak show. You may run into Super Hex Man on the streets,
his extra pair of eyes hanging from his cheeks, murmuring to passers by, "My
parents, they wanted blue eyes," or you may see Super Mutanto at an FDA hearing
trying to give away dead sterile terminated seeds to the commissioners.
Super Rat Grrrl: We also use strategies like our do-it-yourself
labeling campaign. Easy to do, popularize, and replicate, you apply the labels
to shelf products in stores yourself. The Organic Consumers Association keeps a
list online of products that have genetically engineered ingredients — almost
anything with soy in it (http://www.purefood.org/). Anyone, anywhere,
can print out their own labels and go to it. (The Campaign to Label GE Foods
also lists current crops at http://www.thecampaign.org/foodlist.htm)
The Hexterminator: Ultimately, the genetix devolution is a "Carnaval
of Biolife," a Russian Roulette that the public has not been allowed to impact
in any meaningful way.
CTheory: The contexts within which biotech research is being done is
increasingly a mix of government-funded and corporate-funded projects. should
these remain separate — university based or academic research separate from
Biogrrrl: The ability to even make a distinct separation between
corporate, government, and academic biotech research has become increasingly
difficult of late. We see the "revolving door" between government agencies
responsible for genetic engineering research and monitoring and the biotech
corporations, who are more than willing to provide their own functionaries to
steer these offices. The US government even shares patents on imperialist
technologies like the terminator, our namesake, with these corporations.
Super Rat Grrrl: And biotech corporations have also taken a much more
powerful role in the universities than simply funding research, which we think
is scary enough! We now see entire university departments bought and paid for by
some of the most monstrous corporations in the world. The faculty and students
in these situations become essentially corporate slaves, forced to do research
which is most beneficial to the bottom line rather than public necessity. As a
group, we believe private interest inspired solely by greed should not be the
foundation upon which education is based.
Biogrrrl: Which is why we see more and more research money being
placed into developing more deceptive ways to increase pesticide use through
resistant crops or into further means of idealizing and patenting the human.
The Hexterminator: And so, we've said, "Throw pie at the corporate
oligarchy!" At the merger of the College of Natural Resources of University of
California Berkeley and Novartis Corporation we had our Super Hero agents
infiltrate their self-congratulatory press conference. As the worst of their
gloating commenced, a delicious vegan pumpkin pie flew in the face of the Dean
of the College of Natural Resources for selling out what should be a school for
sustainable technologies, and another delicious organic pie flew in the face of
the Novartis CEO, showing him that non-engineered is tasty enough.
CTheory: One of the primary issues with both biomedical and
agricultural biotech is the issue of patenting. What is your position on
patenting? What kinds of policies should exist to ensure that individuals and/or
communities retain rights to their own bodies?
Super Rat Grrrl: Our position on patenting life is the same position
we take on any other effort to colonize; it is theft and we oppose it.
Biogrrrl: Is life a commodity that should be owned and defined by a
few global multi-billion dollar life science corporations? Over 95% of all
patents are held by large companies or government institutions, and it's only
since 1980 that life forms have even had the potential to be patented, which has
led to a new phase of colonialism through the food supply.
Super Rat Grrrl: In the US, people blindly trust the Food & Drug
Administration to inform the public when there is the potential for danger.
People trust the Environmental Protection Agency to examine the ecological
ramifications of GE agriculture. These agencies have failed to do that. Instead,
the government is simply allowing billion dollar corporations to use the earth
and our bodies as their testing ground without our knowledge or consent. Though
some people are calling for the labeling of GE foods so that the public may
choose what they consume, the Hexterminators believe labeling is not enough.
There must be a moratorium on all GE foods until there is long-term testing on
the environment, human and animal health.
Biogrrrl: A lot of the disruption of the WTO meetings in Seattle in
1999 was because of patents, intellectual property provisions, and the
destructive effect this is having on farmers and poor people worldwide. The WTO
is imposing international private tyranny. The more trade meetings we can shut
down, the more illegitimate agreements we will halt and block. We saw the mark
that creativity had in expressing social issues at the WTO protests.
The Hexterminator: Some of our Super Heroes show what it is like when
we lose control of our bodies. One member of the Hexterminators is Miss
Monsanto, our genetically engineered Beauty-Queen-gone-wrong. She often breaks
out into screams of rage and fury. Her skin, which had been engineered for
flawless perfection, is instead broken by boils and lesions, a sadly repulsive
glitch in her engineering.
Biogrrrl: Fortunately, there's a lot of exciting movement right now on
this issue. Recently the UN human rights body pointed out the conflict between
the World Trade Organization's Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and
international human rights law. Over the last decade the world has seen massive
protests and riots in India in response to provisions on the ownership of life
forms and the Monsanto corporation's destructive patenting of seeds. Patenting
laws have superceded the human rights to food, health and self determination and
the United Nations is finally acknowledging that.
CTheory: What can a community do when its natural resources are being
appropriated and developed by biotech companies? Is the notion of "informed
consent" a plausible option? In cases of "biopiracy" do economically
disadvantaged communities have anything to gain from negotiating with biotech
The Hexterminator: What kind of negotiation is possible when there is
such a power disparity? Imbalances in trade, economic, and military power
obliterate negotiation. With the outcome of biotech experimenting and biohazard
release being possible ecocide or biocide, where is the informed consent?
Biogrrrl: The Human Diversity Project, which took the cell lines of
indigenous people all over the world, best expressed this current phase of
Western colonial appropriation: "We are going to annihilate indigenous people,
but we need their human genetic information for medical and scientific diversity
for us later."
Super Rat Grrrl: In India the farmers have revolted against
biocorporations using their land as testing ground. They burned up all the test
crops and demanded they not be used or coerced into buying bioengineered seeds.
Unfortunately, no country can keep GE foods out because it would violate WTO
provisions stating that a product must be proven as a health or environmental
hazard in order to prohibit trade. Ironically, the biocorporations conduct the
Biogrrl: At this moment there is a biohazard scandal in the US, where
corn not tested for human consumption was released into the food supply. The
farmers are angry because they were not informed sufficiently by the biotech
companies on the extent of buffer zones and the likelihood of cross pollination.
They were lied to by biotech corporations. Consumers are angry and frightened
because they have unknowingly been eating "frankencorn", with unknown
The Hexterminator: And we saw this coming last year, when we invaded a
Safeway supermarket, which we re-christened "The Un-SafeWay." In disguise as
upstanding citizens, we blocked the check-out lines, demanding that the
management tell us which foods had genetically engineered ingredients, so that
we could make a choice. They were unable to answer us, so we paraded around the
store with our signs, letting everyone know this is The Un-SafeWay to deal with
our food. Super Butter Fly gave out coupons and information on organic products,
we were simulcast on the radio, and business as usual was shut down.
CTheory: What kinds of roles can biotech activism have in relation to
biotech? Is the public at large being led astray by the biotech industry?
Super Rat Grrrl: The public is certainly being led astray; with
billions of dollars invested in public relations by biocorporations to tell
people that this is the only way to solve world hunger, that science is the only
solution to all worldly woes. In fact, the food the public is eating is
engineered to have a longer shelf life, to serve as a pesticide, to withstand
larger doses of pesticides, to kill itself in order to prevent saved seed
farming, and may even contain transgenic allergens causing potentially deadly
allergic reactions. We can't forget that these same companies which promote
themselves as the cure all for society's problems are the same companies which
have polluted our neighborhoods with toxins, propped up dictatorships to
increase their bottom line, and placed the worlds food supply into the hands of
a few wealthy men in suits.
The Hexterminator: So, as activists, we use creativity to disseminate
information outside of the mainstream media systems.
Biogrrrl: And there other types of active roles through larger bodies
such as the United Nations, organizations like the Rural Advancement Foundation
International, in national governments, in the courts and further. With such a
fundamentally dangerous instrument as biotechnology, we see activists
everywhere, as they should be. Anti-genetic engineering resolutions are being
passed by city councils all across the US, most recently in Minneapolis,
Cleveland, Boulder, San Francisco, Austin, and Boston. Direct action sabotage of
biotech crops and test sites has continued in the US. There have been over 37
sabotages of GE crops in North America in the past two years, and no arrests
have been made.
The Hexterminator: Pulling genetically engineered crops is not
sabotage! It's decontamination!
Super Rat Grrrl: True enough. Even the Biotech giant Novartis is
pulling back, eliminating GE ingredients from their entire worldwide line of
food. They obviously have succumbed to public pressure. We can fight for a
moratorium until the research is controlled democratically, not under the
auspices of capital growth. We invite others to get involved, read more, check
all the sources, and try as much as we are allowed to make informed decisions,
supporting organic agriculture as much as possible. We also invite others to
help actualize an alternative culture of resistance that popularizes and extends
the international movement for global justice.
In October of 1998 several ArtActivists came together united to
oppose what is clearly a high-tech form of colonialism, exploitation and
biodevastation: the genetic engineering of our food supply. These Bay Area
artists, who call themselves the Hexterminators, are roughly an affinity group
of politically-minded performance artists concerned about biodevastation and
corporate colonialism. There are many ethical issues in the field of
biotechnology today, but the primary focus of this particular group is with the
industry's agricultural applications. Further information about The
Hexterminators can be found on their website, http://www.artactivist.com/
Eugene Thacker is an Assistant Professor in the department of Literature,
Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech. His writes on new media and
biotechnology, and is a part of the art group Fakeshop.
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