OK Research, OK Genetic Engineering, Bad Information:
Information Art Describes Technology

Judy Malloy
El Sobrante, CA
Email: jmalloy@well.com

Originally Published in Leonardo, vol 21, No 4 pp 371-375, 1988

(The original print article includes figures of the OK Genetic Engineering (OKGE) Company Car; the Bad Information installation at SOMAR, the Technical Information installation at Site and the OK Genetic Engineering Files.)

Placed on the web in celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of OK Research (1980-1982) -- which was followed by OK Genetic Engineering (1983-1985) and Bad Information (1986-1990)

Judy Malloy

"Artist on the Net"


Abstract: The author forms companies to collect technical information. The information is used as iconography in experimental books, installations, performances, files and other art which examines the role of technology in our culture. The paper discusses the meaning of technical information and describes three projects: OK Research, which collected and studied all kinds of technological information, OK Genetic Engineering, which was an investigation of the biotechnology industry, and Bad Information, which collected and used information about the computer industry.

I. Introduction
II. OK Research
III. OK Genetic Engineering (OKGE)
IV. Bad Information
References and Notes

I. Introduction

Collected information informs not only by its specific content but also by the cultural meaning it conveys as a whole. For instance, a review paper informs not only by telling what work has been done but also by telling who did that work, where, by what methods. In my art, I portray our technological society, using information from its own literature as iconography.

Technology is as influential and pervasive in our culture as religion, humanism, the landscape or royal families have been in other cultures. It has usurped the arts as imitator of nature, maker of things, intimate to those in power. [1]

Technical information is produced with seemingly unlimited funding in astounding amounts and variety. Just as Brueghel made composite pictures using pictorial information about his society's activities, I make a kind of composite art, using both written and pictorial technical information as artist's material. The things I make are experimental books, installations, performances, databases and files. These works use molecular units, such as 3x5 cards or file folders full of information, to build a whole. In addition to collected information, they incorporate my own writing, photos and drawings. I also make xerox multiples, which I distribute as widely as possible.

To gather the information for the projects discussed in this paper, I formed my own research and development companies. Not only was it easier to acquire vendor information as President of OK Research, OK Genetic Engineering, and Bad Information, but also, by becoming a part of the subject myself, I was able to look at and describe it as an insider. In the way court painters became a part of the court, I have tried to become a part of the technical community.[2]

II. OK Research

OK Research (1980-1982) was my first technical information project. It was a general investigation of the role of technology in our society.

As President of OK Research, I collected over 1,000 pieces of information by contacting scientific equipment vendors, visiting companies in Silicon Valley, going to trade shows and consulting technical libraries, [3]. the information included vendor literature, articles from technical journals, charts, graphs, photographs, technical reports, etc. These things were meant to serve as a source of ideas and materials not commonly considered by artists and others outside of the technical community, as well as a collection of source documents that would reflect the habits, resources and products of makers of technology.

I used some of the information in an installation called Technical Information at Site [4] in San Francisco in 1981. The information encircled the space, displayed on over 200 feet of slanted shelving. In the center of the space, I built a six-sided structure that contained art I had made by combing photos and text from the technical information with drawings, text and photos I had made during the course of the investigation.

In the outer circle, technology portrayed itself with its own literature. The information was slick, beautifully designed. The slogans were compelling:









At the start of the show I organized the information to emphasize recurring themes, putting together, for instance, all the vendor ads with religious language or overtones and all the adds which equated art with technology. A table and chair were provided, and visitors could take the information down from the shelves and read it. As they took the information and reshelved it randomly, the order and meaning of the external layers changed.

Artists who visited the installation were amazed at the things that they saw in the outer circle. I suggested that they write their names and addresses on the back of particular pieces that they were interested in. Both visitors from the technical community and artists wrote their names on the back of information about geotextiles, computer graphics, cloning protocols, etc. After the show, I mailed out all the requested information.

In the inner circle, the hexagonical structure, which I had built with wood and large sheets of heavy-duty cardboard, was buttressed with 18 wooden newspaper racks. Each rack held a rice paper newspaper covered with drawings, photos, and text. Some of the images used in the newspapers were taken from the information and some were from my own work. FOr example, in one newspaper, drawings of cathedrals were juxtaposed with photos of satellites and big antennas. Visitors could take the newspapers down and read them at the reading table.

Inside the structure, I built a table on which I placed all the things I had made. they included an electromechanical book, which was read by pushing buttons. Its 'pages' consisted of xerox prints made by placing small scientific instruments on a black-and-white xerox machine. [13] There were also plexiglass boxes with readable contents: a flask full of tiny color xerox prints made from photos I had taken in laboratories at the University of California in Berkeley and card catalogs which combined words, photos, drawings, and objects. One book, called Bumps on the Chips, used pictures and writing to tell the story of how I watched an apricot orchard be plowed under when I was married to a semiconductor engineer and living in Silicon Valley. The pictures and writing were pasted on a signal trace sequence computer printout used to check the wiring of electronic circuits.

Some visitors looked at only one part -- only at the art or only at the technical information. Others spent time in both areas. By contrasting the homemade art about technology with the commercially produced technicalinformation, this installation emphasized the shifting roles or art and technology and provoked cultural crosscurrents.

III. OK Genetic Engineering (OKGE)

Recombinant DNA technology is one of the most important issues of this decade. It seems more important that art, and in fact, may be art as defined traditionally: "Human contrivance or ingenuity, as in adapting natural things to man's use." [14] But if technology has the power to change the world for better or worse, or, as is probably the case, for better and worse, artists -- as the new philosophers and as effective users of information in an information society -- have the vision to temper, interpret and channel these changes.

As President of OK Genetic Engineering (1983-1985), I collected information about genetic engineering research and development. I used that information to make a series of reports and products -- small reproducible combinations of words and images that were distributed as free handouts or by mail.[15] The reports and products were experimental books that distilled and displayed information.

"If you are young," J.D. Watson said, "there is really no option to be a molecular biologist.[16] I found that being president of a genetic engineering company was very satisfying. Also it insured that my queries were answered, gave me access to equipment shows and put me on mailing lists.

In the first months, as publicity for the project and to find out how people feel about genetic engineering, I drove a company car and produced OKGE matchbooks, [17] which I left on tables in restaurants or at art events throughout the Bay Area. The company car was a 1973 Chrysler Town and Country station wagon with "OK Genetic Engineering - Quality Clones Since 1984" painted on its side panels. [note that it was actually 1983 when the car took to the streets of Berkeley] Typical reactions were: "Can they really do that?", "What's that stuff you do that begins with a 'C'?" "Do you have any jobs?"

I wrote a lot of letters on my OKGE letterhead requesting information on DNA synthesizers, cloning vectors, monoclonals, etc. Although the stationary read "Go All The Way With DNA" on the bottom, there were no questions from vendors. I got most of the information I requested. However, I attended only one trade show to collect information because, while as president of OK Research nobody noticed me, as President of OKGE, I was deluged by representatives wanting to know where my facility was.

OKGE put out three products and five reports. The products were HLIV (Human Lust Inducing Virus), SH gene (Shrinkage Hormone Gene) and NFD bacteria (Nuclear Fuel Devouring Bacteria). the five reports dealt with various aspects of the biotechnology industry. Some used slogans from the information. Others were based on my personal experience as president of OKGE.

Report no. 5, the OKGE banner, was a fold-out pennant that was made by taping three xeroxed heavy paper sections together. Written all over it were slogans from the advertisements I had collected. Some of the slogans were:








Several hundred copies of HLIV were made by pasting xerox copy on matchboxes. On the top, each package read:

HLIV - Human Lust Inducing Virus -
developed by OK Genetic engineering
to solve an important world problem -
what to do when he/she just wants to be friends.
how this product will affect the ecological balance in Northern California.
DO NOT OPEN THIS BOX without reading the warning on the back!

One of the sides read:

This box contains at least 220 HLIV virions in culture.
The other read:
J.P. Malloy, Pres. Quality Clones since 1984
The back read:
WARNING - OK GENETIC ENGINEERING has not received permission to release this organism from NIH. We used a Stanford patent without paying the license fee, and we do not know how to file an Environmental Impact Statement. We are distributing HLIV free. Please make your own decision whether or not to release these organisms.

Inside each box was a label on which the words:

uh oh

were typed.

I distributed over 400 [handmade] boxes of Human Lust Inducing Virus and had quite a few favorable reports about its efficacy. It appears that most people do not worry about disturbing the ecological balance when it concerns a product they feel they really need. I know of only two people who choose not to open the box. One, a rock musician, was motivated by environmental concerns. The other, a gentleman in his eighties, said that he was old enough to know when he had enough of a good thing.

The OKGE Reports and Products were combined in the OKGE Files, a painted metal file box with black painted file folders inside it. Some of the letters to vendors, copies of materials received from vendors and other collected information, copies of all the reports and products, source documents such as classic genetic engineering papers and other papers that explained the concepts used in the reports and products, and letters or mail art from people who had received the reports and products. [25]

IV. Bad Information

I believe, as does critic Jack Burnham, that "with increasing aggressiveness, on of the artist's functions....is to specify how technology uses us." [26] My new company, Bad Information (1986- ), is producing a series of databases about the impact that computers and the information explosion are having on our society.

Bad Information Base No. 1 (BIB1) is a computer database made up of over 400 quotations from computer literature. [27] As President of Bad Information, I selected the quotes from information I gathered by going to computer shows, reading computer magazines and computer manuals, searching commercial electronic databases and writing letters to computer companies asking, on Bad Information letterhead, for information about their products. [28]

BIB1 can be searched by any word or by keywords, like ELECTRONIC WARFARE, TRUTH, SEX, JOB INSECURITY, ANSWER YOU WANT, REVENGE, BEER, ROBOTS, BAD DATA. For instance, a search using the keyword ROBOTS produces 10 quotes. Some of them are:

Sony engineers theorize that in a factory with no human respiration and none of the hair and skin cells humans continuously shed, they could achieve near-perfect control over dust, and very low reject rations on VSLI-chip production. [29]

Through an incredible genetic experiment, all of the surplus electronics have mutated into Colorbots, a hyperintelligent race of robots who are capable of thinking on their own. The Colorbots have concluded that according to their alien logic -- man is inferior and must be destroyed.[30]

Now I think that the biggest justification for buying a robot is that it can become a friend -- to our children and to us.
And if it can't become a friend, at least it can become a pet. [31]

The database is meant to be a kind of 'portrait' of our computer-and information-dominated society. Although BIB1 presents a somewhat negative view of computerization, the information it includes could not have been organized as effectively as it was without the use of a computer.

In October 1987, I used continuously printed searches of all the keywords in BIB1 in an installation called Bad Information at SOMAR Gallery Space in San Francisco. [32] I built a Bad Information Shrine using a black media cart mounted on a black pedestal. A gray painted computer shipping box containing the printed searches was mounted on the media cart. All the keywords in the Bad Information Base were painted on the pedestal.

Several thousand pages of computer-printed bad information emerged from the Bad Information Shrine and streamed across the floor to a lack trash can. A sign in front of the trash can said:


At the opening, as visitors to the installation tore off sheets of Bad Information, the stream of paper flowed continuously out of the box and across the floor. For the most part, visitors kept their information. Some came back for more. As visitors compared and traded information, the bad information circulated around the space.

Bad Information Bases no. 2 and 3 (BIB2, BIB3), databases of wrong of misleading information, are a kind of satire of our tendency to take anything that comes 'from the computer' as true. The information for these data bases, information like "Libya is a South Sea Island," is being collected online on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) on the WELL. Anyone who logs on to ACEN can enter bad information in a topic that is being collected. I have now collected over 400 pieces of bad information, which I am putting into a database that can be searched online by users of ACEN. Bad information in -- Bad Information out! [33]

References and Notes

1. My ideas about the shifting role of technology in our culture are discussed in Judy Malloy, "Any Way You Look at It...ADM Has Your Antenna," in The Un/necessary Image, Peter D'Agostino and Antonio Muntadas, eds (New York: Tanam, 1982) pp. 76-79, and in Carl Loeffler, "The Art of Information is OK: Judy Malloy in Conversation with Art Com", Art Com 8(1) No. 29. Art Com is an online journal available on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) on the WELL.

2. Many aspects of this work, in particular the knowledge of whom to approach for information and how to make that approach, as well as the ability to organize information, were facilitated by over 20 years of supporting myself [while I was a single parent] by working with technical information, including jobs as a technical librarian and a library assistant for several research and technical companies. Although, like most artists, I would much prefer to work full time on my artwork, without a doubt these jobs have increased my understanding of the uses of information.

3. The libraries I used most were the engineering, chemistry and physics libraries at the University of California at Berkeley. I got several bags full of information at the 1980 National Electronics Packaging Conference (NEPCON) held in San Mateo, California. Jim Malloy, the Marketing Manager at Fairchild Semiconductor Hybrid Division, contributed a great deal of information. Several boxes of information were left on my doorstep by University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist, George Smoot.

4. Site (1976-1983) was an alternative space in San Francisco that allowed artists to conceive and present work in whatever way they chose. Technical Information was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The following people helped me install Technical Information: Richard Alpert, Penny Dienes, Bill Seely, Shirley Stuart, and the director of Site, Jill Scott.

5. Gilson advertisement, American Laboratory 12, No. 8, 16 (1980)

6. Hughes advertisement, Industrial Research and Development 23, No. 12,77 (1981)

7. Brochure for Bausch & Lomb Spectronic (r) 2000 spectrophotometer (received 1980)

8. Fusion advertisement, Military Science and Technology 1, No. 1, 53 (1981)

9. Kistler Advanced Dynamic Instrumentation Brochure (received 1980).

10. Solarex advertisement. IEEE Spectrum 18 No. 11 n.p. (1981)

11. Raychem advertisement. Chemical and Engineering News 58, No. 43, 14 (1980).

12. Hercules advertisement, Modern Plastics 56 No. 10, n.p. (1979).

13. I used a battery-operated Radio Shack electromechanical address book to make this book. The pages can be accessed either sequentially or at random depending on which buttons the viewer pushes. I have since made seven other books using various kinds of Radio Shack address books. My use of information forms such as card catalogs is briefly described in Judy Malloy, "Information Forms -> Stories: Information as Artist's Material," Whole Earth Review, No. 57, 48-49 (1987).

14. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 5th Ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam, 1937)

15. My mailing list for this project had about 200 names on it and included artists, art professionals, friends and biotechnology professionals. Fewer biotechnologists were included than originally intended because, in the middle of the OKGE project, public controversy over the Lindow-Panopoulos Ice-Minus Bacteria experiment, which originated at the Plant Pathology Dept. at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was working as a library assistant, made me feel that I should restrict distribution of OKGE information to the art community.

16. Watson made the remark at a conference organized by Nature to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Watson and Crick paper that set forth the structure of DNA. He was quoted in P. Newman, "Thirty years of DNA,"Nature 305, 383-384 (1983). This quote was used on a tee shirt printed by the Dept. of Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

17. These were matchbooks with pictures and slogans such as "OK Genetic Engineering - It really works," as opposed to the matchbox products like HLIV and SH gene mentioned later in this paper.

18. LKB advertisement (received 1983).

19. Biosearch advertisement, Nature 299, No. 5892, n.p. (1982).

20. Biologicals advertisement, Nature, 294, no. 5842, back cover. (1981)

21. Charles River Laboratories advertisement, Genetic Engineering News 3 No. 2, 22 (1983).

22. International Genetics LTD advertisement (received 1983).

23. Ortho-mune advertisement, Nature 294, No. 5842, n.p., (1981)

24. Research Organics inc. advertisement, Genetic Engineering News 1, No. 4, 14 (1981).

25. The OKGE files were installed with a table and chair in the show Experimental Books, curated by Margaret Stainer at Works Gallery in San Jose, california in 1986.

26. Jack Burnham, Great Western Salt Works: Essays on thee Meaning of Post-
Formalist Art
(New York, Braziller, 1974.) p. 38.

27.BIB1 runs on Apple II series computers with at least 48K memory. The software I used was a Database Management System (DBMS) called VISIDEX which was written by Peter Jennings and put out by Visicorp. VISIDEX is no longer commercially available, and I am currently converting BIB1 to an Applesoft Basic database I wrote myself.

28. The databases I searched were the Microcomputer Index and the Institute of Electrical Engineer's INSPEC. The database vendor I used was Dialog's Knowledge Index. Some interesting quotes were also obtained from a collection of over 200 computer buttons acquired at computer shows. The buttons, which were given to me by the product manager for Data Systems, Dave Aronowitz, have slogans like "COME BALL WITH US" (TG Products button), "FLOPPY NOW, HARD LATER" (Computer Business News Button)

29. G.K. O'Neill, The Technology Edge(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983) p. 23.

30. J. R. Dondzilla, "Colorbot", Compute 6 No. 1102 (1984).

31. F.D.'Ignazio, "The Robot Teddy Bear," Compute 6, No. 1, 102 (1984).

32. Bad Information was part of a large group installation show at SOMAR (a large gallery space in San Francisco) called Monumental Women. The show was curated by Joe Babcock and Michael Bell. Sean Malloy helped me install Bad Information.

33. A detailed account of how the bad information was collected on ACEN is available in Judy Malloy, "Bad Information In- Bad Information Out," Art Com 8, No 30 (1988). Art Com is an online journal available through ACEN on the WELL.