The work Chimaerama is based on a set of one hundred Victorian animal-illustrations. Each animal is cut into three segments and positioned so that each head fits onto each body and each body onto each tail. The individual segments can be recombined, by means of three switches, into one million new creatures.

The images come from a book published in 1843 by Lorenz Oken, Allgemeine Naturgeschichte für alle Stände, with engravings by Johann Conrad Susemihl. This book has been passed on for generations in my family.
The work refers to the history of science, zoology, as well as mythology:
Its title refers to the Chimaera, a creature from Greek mythology, often pictured as a mixture of lion, sheep and snake.
In modern biology the word chimera refers to a single animal organism with genetically distinct cells.
In past centuries, people used to describe a new found animal-species by combining the body parts of already known animals. A sea lion, for example, was described as a dog with feet like those of a goose and skin like that of an eel. Drawings based on these description then indeed showed marvelous, mythological creatures.
As a generator of novel lifeforms, the work also refers to crossbreeding and horizontal gene transfer as a driving force of evolution: The constant shuffling of genetic makeup forms a major aspect of evolutionary processes. Nowadays, genetic engineering and synthetic biology are increasingly eroding the natural borders that existed between species. Transgenic organisms have been created, for example, by inserting the genes of fluorescent jellyfish into those of mice, cats and pigs. The mythological Chimaera has long become a reality.

2004 - 2014 | various versions

Pictured here: Chimaerama #6: 2013 | HTML/jQuery, 3 channel interactive video loop, machine with custom casing (wood, metal, polycarbonate, various electronic components) | 47cm x 54cm x 20cm

In the collection of DOK library, Delft, The Netherlands

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