Editable Future: The Technical, Ethical, Legal and Artistic Perspectives of Gene Editing

CAFA held the 3rd EAST Art x Technology Season in the winter of 2019. As part of the event, the lecture “Editable Future: The Technical, Ethical, Legal and Artistic Perspectives of Gene Editing” featured discussions over the scientific, legal, ethical aspects of gene editing and gene-related artistic creation. Among the six speakers there are scientists, historian, curator and artist. 

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The first speaker, researcher Wang Yangming introduced the history and application of gene editing. He believes that gene editing is a double-edged sword: It can be used to boost food output to prevent more famines, but it may also be used to make bio-weapon. There are also ethical concerns when it comes to human gene editing.

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Researcher Wang Haoyi elaborated on human gene editing. According to him, editing of somatic cell is completely different from editing of embryos cells - the latter is highly ethically controversial as it would pass the edited genes onto the next generations and affect the evolution of human race, whereas the former wouldn’t be inherited, and could benefit people who caught a disease because of genetic variations. 

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Researcher Peng Yaojin focused on the legal and ethical aspect of gene editing. He raised a question: Where should we draw the line between gene editing used for treatment of disease and gene editing used for the sake of eugenics? Gene editing might be misused by people in power to turn their social advantage into biological advantage, and it might lead to discrimination against people whose genes are not edited. Peng also compared laws and regulations regarding gene editing in the US, Britain, France, Germany, Israel and China. He noted that China has not yet imposed enforceable penalties on human gene editing, and suggested that the legislation department should react to the updates in genetic research more timely.

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Historian Gao Lu spoke about the history and status quo of regulation of gene editing. Back in the 1960s, a group of UK scientists initiated the radical science movement, appealing for reflections on science’s role in society. It was under the context of such awakening that three years after Paul Berg created the first man-made recombinant DNA in 1972, 140 biologists, lawyers and physicians drew up voluntary guidelines at the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA to ensure the safety of recombinant DNA technology. The guidelines became earliest reference of regulations in the science field in many countries, but few revolutionary changes were made to the guidelines for years. Then there was the 2018 CRISPR baby scandal, in which a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui made the first genome-edited human babies. It once sound the warning bell: More systematical and detailed precaution measures and more strict public scrutiny should be applied to gene editing technologies, and we might need to redefine the direction of scientific development taking the ontology of human existence into consideration.

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Curator Wei Ying has been focusing her research on BioArt. The term BioArt was coined by Brazilian-American artist and professor Eduardo Kac, who’s best known for his controversial work Alba that features a gene-edited, green-fluorescent rabbit. Although Kac defined BioArt as manipulation, modification or creation of life and living processes in his 1997 BioArt Manifesto, Wei believes that the interdisciplinary exploration across art and biology shouldn’t be limited to gene editing in the labs. She proposed a new definition named “pan-bioart”, which expands the bio art practice into three levels: biology as material, biology as data and biology as image. Biology can also be a concept generator, like how the concept of “evolution” was invented as a biological term and later evolved in sociological discipline. In terms of gene as an artistic medium, Wei sorts relevant art practices into two categories: digital and physical. Works like Ben Fry’s Chromosome 21 is categorized as digital, which exist solely in digital world; works like Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions, in which the artist made 3D-printed portraits from strangers’ DNA gathered from public spaces, transfer gene into physical objects. Wei discovered that many BioArt works in the west respond to religion, but as the BioArt practice gradually shifts to Asia, how would people respond to technologies like gene editing in atheist China? By raising this question Wei hopes to inspire young artists.

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The last speaker, Marta de Menezes is a renowned Portuguese bio artist. She shared her bio art practice. Her approach towards a theme is not pure scientific, but to first expand her view with empathy towards other people’s perspectives before narrowing down to more specific thoughts. She doesn’t limit herself to certain laboratories, materials or fields. In fact, her works cover evolutionary biology, microbiology, cytobiology, etc. The artist expressed her passion for art, especially art’s impact in enhancing reflections on knowledge and technology from a philosophical perspective. 


Time: 2019/11/12 18:00

Venue: CAFAM Lecture Hall

Presenter: Wang Yuyang, Deputy Director of CAFA School of Experimental Art

Keynote Speakers: Wang Yangming, Wang Haoyi, Peng Yaojin, Gao Lu, Wei Ying, Marta de Menezes


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This event was organized on the principles of fairness, impartiality, and voluntary participation and withdrawal. Participants undertake all risk and liability for themselves. All events have risks, and participants must be aware of the risks related to their chosen event.

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According to The Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, The General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and The Provisional Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues Related to the Full Implementation of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and upon friendly negotiation, Party A and Party B have arrived at the following agreement regarding the use of works bearing Party A’s image in order to clarify the rights and obligations of the portrait licenser (Party A) and the user (Party B):

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(2) Forms of Use. For use in CAFA’s publications, products with CDs, and promotional materials.

(3) Geographical Scope of Use

The applicable geographic scope is global.

The media in which the portraiture may be used encompasses any media that does not infringe upon Party A’s portraiture rights (e.g., magazines and the internet).

III. Term of Portraiture Rights Use

Use in perpetuity.

IV. Licensing Fees

The fees for images bearing Party A’s likeness will be undertaken by Party B.

After completion, Party B does not need to pay any fees to Party A for images bearing Party A’s likeness.

Additional Terms

(1) All matters not discussed in this agreement shall be resolved through friendly negotiation between both parties. Both parties may then sign a supplementary agreement, provided it does not violate any laws or regulations.

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(3) This agreement exists in paper and electronic forms. The paper form is made in duplicate, with Party A and Party B each retaining one copy with the same legal efficacy.

Event participants implicitly accept and undertake all the obligations stated in this agreement. Those who do not consent will be seen as abandoning the right to participate in this event. Before participating in this event, please speak to your family members to obtain their consent and inform them of this disclaimer. After participants sign/check the required box, participants and their families will be seen as having read and agreed to these terms.

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I fully agree to CAFA Art Museum (CAFAM) submitting to CAFA for publication the images, pictures, texts, writings, and event products (such as works created during participation in workshops) related to me from my participation in public events (including museum member events) organized by the CAFA Art Museum Public Education Department. CAFA can publish these materials by electronic, web, or other digital means, and I hereby agree to be included in the China Knowledge Resource Bank, the CAFA Database, the CAFA Art Museum Database, and related data, documentation, and filing institutions and platforms. Regarding their use in CAFA and dissemination on the internet, I agree to make use of these rights according to the stated Rules.

CAFA Art Museum Event Safety Disclaimer

Article I

This event was organized on the principles of fairness, impartiality, and voluntary participation and withdrawal. Participants undertake all risk and liability for themselves. All events have risks, and participants must be aware of the risks related to their chosen event.

Article II

Event participants must abide by the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, as well as moral and ethical norms. All participants must demonstrate good character, respect for others, friendship, and a willingness to help others.

Article III

Event participants should be adults (people 18 years or older with full civil legal capacity). Underage persons must be accompanied by an adult.

Article IV

Event participants undertake all liability for their personal safety during the event, and event participants are encouraged to purchase personal safety insurance. Should an accident occur during an event, persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for the accident, but both have the obligation to provide assistance. Event participants should actively organize and implement rescue efforts, but do not undertake any legal or economic liability for the accident itself. The museum does not undertake civil or joint liability for the personal safety of event participants.

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During the event, event participants should respect the order of the museum event and ensure the safety of the museum site, the artworks in displays, exhibitions, and collections, and the derived products. If an event causes any degree of loss or damage to the museum site, space, artworks, or derived products due to an individual, persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for losses. The event participant must negotiate and provide compensation according to the relevant legal statutes and museum rules. The museum may sue for legal and financial liability.

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Event participants will participate in the event under the guidance of museum staff and event leaders or instructors and must correctly use the painting tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities provided for the event. If a participant causes injury or harm to him/herself or others while using the painting tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities, or causes the damage or destruction of the tools, materials, equipment, and/or facilities, the event participant must undertake all related liability and provide compensation for the financial losses. Persons not involved in the accident and the museum do not undertake any liability for personal accidents.

CAFA Art Museum Portraiture Rights Licensing Agreement

According to The Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, The General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and The Provisional Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues Related to the Full Implementation of the General Principles of the Civil Law of the People’s Republic of China, and upon friendly negotiation, Party A and Party B have arrived at the following agreement regarding the use of works bearing Party A’s image in order to clarify the rights and obligations of the portrait licenser (Party A) and the user (Party B):

I. General Provisions

(1) Party A is the portraiture rights holder in this agreement. Party A voluntarily licenses its portraiture rights to Party B for the purposes stipulated in this agreement and permitted by law.

(2) Party B (CAFA Art Museum) is a specialized, international modern art museum. CAFA Art Museum keeps pace with the times, and works to create an open, free, and academic space and atmosphere for positive interaction with groups, corporations, institutions, artists, and visitors. With CAFA’s academic research as a foundation, the museum plans multi-disciplinary exhibitions, conferences, and public education events with participants from around the world, providing a platform for exchange, learning, and exhibition for CAFA’s students and instructors, artists from around the world, and the general public. As a public institution, the primary purposes of CAFA Art Museum’s public education events are academic and beneficial to society.

(3) Party B will photograph all CAFA Public Education Department events for Party A.

II. Content, Forms of Use, and Geographical Scope of Use

(1) Content. The content of images taken by Party B bearing Party A’s likeness include: ① CAFA Art Museum ② CAFA campus ③ All events planned or executed by the CAFAM Public Education Department.

(2) Forms of Use. For use in CAFA’s publications, products with CDs, and promotional materials.

(3) Geographical Scope of Use

The applicable geographic scope is global.

The media in which the portraiture may be used encompasses any media that does not infringe upon Party A’s portraiture rights (e.g., magazines and the internet).

III. Term of Portraiture Rights Use

Use in perpetuity.

IV. Licensing Fees

The fees for images bearing Party A’s likeness will be undertaken by Party B.

After completion, Party B does not need to pay any fees to Party A for images bearing Party A’s likeness.

Additional Terms

(1) All matters not discussed in this agreement shall be resolved through friendly negotiation between both parties. Both parties may then sign a supplementary agreement, provided it does not violate any laws or regulations.

(2) This agreement comes into effect on the date that it is signed (sealed) and the relevant boxes are selected by Party A and Party B.

(3) This agreement exists in paper and electronic forms. The paper form is made in duplicate, with Party A and Party B each retaining one copy with the same legal efficacy.

Event participants implicitly accept and undertake all the obligations stated in this agreement. Those who do not consent will be seen as abandoning the right to participate in this event. Before participating in this event, please speak to your family members to obtain their consent and inform them of this disclaimer. After participants sign/check the required box, participants and their families will be seen as having read and agreed to these terms.

I have carefully read and agree to the above provisions.

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