K-9_topology: ECCE CANIS



Interaction of biology and culture is the central concept in the understanding of human evolution, geographical dispersion, diversity and health. Within this frame, I am interested in metabolic pathway processes that trigger emotional motif which connects two species: humans and dogs to successfully coexist together. I believe the physiological core of the paradigm dwells in the connection between the sense of smell and serotonin pathway predispositions which result as a hormone accumulation feedback in interaction between both species. For thousands of years humans have had been developing a lack of perception of smell which decreased inversely with the development of culture that predisposed behavioral skills in verbal/sound and visual communication. Nevertheless, we still tend to believe that whether we are going to „like" each other would be based on the „chemistry" of smell which remained the imperative in dog´s perception. These first domesticated animals are still primarily compelled to smell hence are not percepting the world on the concept of causality (like humans). Therefore I am posing the question: how come that we are able to evolve such emotional synergy and thus both align around a common want?



I designed an immersed living environment based on the reference of a spherical cave – an archetypical horn - as a paraphrase of where it all begun. Since dogs and humans started to live together even before the agricultural evolution, they have both been living in caves. The uncanny environment of the installation is covered in wolf fur (recycled fashionable jackets made in the 80s and 90s of the 20th century) as a cozy space (home) where public is able to have an interactive experience with the sensor installed respirator that works as an initiation into an essence of the relationship of me and my dog. The serotonin of the both of us has been by chemical (perfume chemistry) protocols transformed into an odor - as the essence of our relationship - our common mind. The spectators are having the chance to smell it if they´d choose so - therefore to experience it by the sense which is the most developed one in dogs and the least developed and hence most poorly articulated sense within humans.

S C I E N T I F I C  P E R S P E C T I V E

Several genes in dogs and humans have been evolving in parallel as adaptation to similar environments. The gene that has consequently - as a process of taming - mutated almost in parallel - is the one that codes for the serotonin transporter slc6A4. Polymorphisms on this gene are one of the key molecular mechanisms for both species to be able to tolerate the presence of others. Since the split between wolves and dogs occurred about 32,000 years ago, it appears that humans and dogs have been taming themselves together for thousands of years!

The bond between dogs, which evolved from wolves, and were domesticated by humans, is ancient and appears to be much deeper than being just 'Good Friends'. Genetic data from gray wolves, a range of dog breeds and Chinese indigenous dogs showed that the split between wolves and dogs occurred about  32,000 years ago, much earlier than the 15,000-16,000 years ago that was previously thought. Researchers have discovered that several genes in dogs and humans, that relate to digestion and diet, disease resistance and certain brain functions, have been evolving in parallel for thousands of years as adaptations to similar environments. The researchers compared the genetics of the wolf and dog and found that modern dogs have developed an ability to digest carbohydrates and starch in food that is not shared by the wolf. Domestic dogs have multiple copies of the gene for the enzyme amylase, which helps dogs digests starch and carbohydrate. Early humans also developed this ability as they became more reliant on cereal crops for food. The age of separation can be determined by the degrees of differences between the genomes and the rate of mutations. The changes in the diet linked genes suggest that the early dogs my have scavenged with humans before being fully domesticated. There was clear evidence of parallel evolution between dogs and humans for adaptation for digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates. Ten genes in dogs, which play key roles in fat metabolism and starch digestion, also showed signs of selection. The data confirms that the early ancestors of modern dogs could thrive on a diet rich in starch that is denied to wolves with their purely carnivorous diet. This is regarded as a crucial step in the early evolution and domestication of dogs.

H U M A N I S T I C  P E R S P E C T I V E

Since the dawn of humankind most of the living world has been in some sense a cultural artefact which reflects wishes, needs and fears of human society. The general cultural gaze towards nature is usually based on a dualistic view between bio-fascination and bio-phobia. My concept wants to offer a post-anthropocentric view by reaching beyond the dualistic concepts that interpret Life Sciences (and nature) within idealistic motifs or „fear of the unknown". As Carl Jung put it: Form gives energy its quality. However, Jung, on a visit to the American Southwest in the fifties, had a transformative conversation with a Hopi native. The elder told him the white man was restless and "mad" because white people think with their heads, whereas the Hopi think with their hearts. This conversation profoundly influenced Jung's philosophy of life. It helped him see that there can be a form of intelligence that has nothing to do with (cultural) thinking, and this is being expressed by the intelligent ways that dogs adapt to human civilization. Dogs don't see the world in terms of one thing or one moment relative to another. A dog's mind is an energy circuit. What he/she feels is indistinguishable from where he/she is, his/hers consciousness is a function of its surroundings, whoever or whatever he/she finds therein and whether or not he/she feels connected to all of this. This is why dogs are compelled to smell; they're importing the essences of things, the energy within the form, directly into their gut so it can be digested. Sensory inputs become integrated with viscera so that a dog becomes physically rather than mentally connected to its world. Therefore a dog doesn't apprehend its "self" as separate or distinct from whatever or whomever it is attracted to.

 Our current scientific models intellectualize nature and therefore personify dogs in ways that usually prevent an owner from being able to see the dog's true nature. Everything a dog does and even its personality is a one-to-one translation of what his/her owner is feeling. A dog and owner evolve to form one "group mind," each the emotional counterbalance to the other and yet both aligned around a common want.

T R A N S D I S C I P L I N A R Y : c o - e v o l u t i o n  o f  b i o l o g y  a n d  c u l t u r e

K-9_topology establishes a research which includes co-evolution of genes - culture, evolution psychology, behavioral ecology, populational genetic and hence cultural evolution through the paradigm wolf-dog-human. The primary interests of the project are rooted in the evolution, domestication and civilization: cultivation and patterns of human movement across the globe which are rooted in data sets which are being offered by analysis of ancient DNA and contemporary gene polymorphism research. Out of this purely scientific data we can be able to rize a cross disciplinary dialogue on the ethics of animals and humans as a paradigm on mutual domestication.

 I am also interested in the paradigm of bio-fascination versus bio-phobia: humans are biologically predisposed to express adapted biophobic reactions towards certain natural situations and stimulations which meant risks in the past; therefore there exists a wolf as science describes it, but there is also wolf, which is a product of a human mind/imagination, culturally and socially conditioned construct -sometimes named „symbolic wolf". Dogs on the other hand as a writer Michel Houellebecq is calling them in his book The Possibility of an Island are machines for loving, but the novel articulates a stunted view of love, where love between a man and a woman is equated with love for a pet. From this perspective a dog could be called the invasive species for the wolf. From the very start of the culture, people have been developing more and more elaborate strategies in the process of domestication of plants and animals, for the last 35 years DNA of organisms can be even changed with biotechnology. Therefore most of the living contemporary world has been in some sense a cultural artefact which reflects wishes, needs and fears of human society. K-9_topology project´s main interest dwells in the emotional motif that connects humans and dogs since dogs have had in the last few centuries more accompanying than a role of working and survival partners.

L I F E  S C I E N C E

Scientific methods executed within the project (in collaboration with the Institute of Biochemistry/Medical Faculty/University of Ljubljana/ Slovenia and Marko Žavbi, lab.biomed. ing.)

I Venepunction of the artist (Maja Smrekar) and her dog (Byron – a Blue Merle Border Collie)

II Test of serotonin level peaks in each blood sample

III Isolation of thrombocytes from each blood sample

IV HPLC/FPLC system: serotonine isolation from each thrombocytes cell line

Author: Maja Smrekar Production: Kapelica Gallery 


Planning and execution of lab infrastructure and protocols: Marko Žavbi; MA lab. biomed.

Consultancy, co-designing and planning of installation: Andrej Strehovec; BA arch.

Consultancy and execution in the field of molecular biology: dr. Alja Videtič Paska, dr. Tilen Konte // Institute of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana

Coordination of field research and consultancy: dr. Miha Krofel // Department of forestry, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana 

Thanks: Border Collie Lord Byron, Miloš Vujkovič, Alen Balja, Boris Balant, Vid Simoniti, Polonca Krajnc, dr.Ana Plemenitaš

Execution of installation: ScenArt // Glassblowing: LabTeh d.o.o.

Supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, Municipality of Ljubljana -Department for Culture 

Co-produced with Bandits-Mages and supported by CNC -centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée, France. 

lncluded in an incubation modul of the 'KiiCS/' Knowledge lncubation in lnnovation and Creation for Science' project, supported by European Commission, 7th Framework Programme.