The Mutant Gene


"The Mutant Gene & Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow" originated in 1992 as multi-media performance extravaganza. It incorporated live and pre-recorded video (displayed through multiple monitors and projectors), animation, text, midi-sequenced and live instrumental music as well as dramatic artifacts and performance elements. The circus began with the psycho-dramatic confession of an extraterrestrial and journeyed into a series of multi-colored, entropic video and musical landscapes. It was staged at various NYC venues.

A complete written description of the performances was published in LEONARDO (The International Society for the Leonardo Arts, Sciences & Technology), The Special Virtual Reality Section, Volume 27, Issue 4.

The technical demands were pretty exhausting and after awhile I thought it would be very nice to take all the elements and bring them together into one teeny tiny transportable disk. So, I decided to compile everything into a CD-ROM. It was released in 1995 and distributed through 1-800-WEIRDOS. The CD-ROM received a lot of nice attention at the time. You can read reviews below.

You can also see the original full 1995 documentation of the project (with lots of gif animations and cool little 160x120 quicktime movies).

The original site.

Review Excerpts:

WIRED Magazine
New York based multi-media artist M.R. Petit describes her CD-ROM, The Mutant Gene & Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow as "the psychodramatic confession of an extraterrestrial." Taken more literally, the disc is an unsettling journey filled with sinister toys, grotesque creatures in gargoyle-like masks and the fleeting of half-remembered dreams all set to a creepy, just-off-the-midway soundtrack.
Petit is now using the Web to create her next project "I'm attracted to working on the Web because you can update things. A CD-ROM gets permanently pressed and you can't change anything." And for an artist, letting your creation mutate is half the fun.
- Mary Elizabeth Williams, May 1996
- photo by Jill Greenberg

The Mutant Gene & Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow was designed by M. R. Petit to be projected onto walls at SoHo loft parties. Like ScruTiny, it is unstructured: the journey begins with a ring of virtual tunnels to explore. Each path leads to an unmarked labyrinth of bleeding color, monstrous puppets, and looping Residents-like techno. Click spots either activate a simple animation or usher in a new representation of hedonism altogether. All meaning is relative; the point is to enjoy the atmosphere and sample the leering sensuality of this abstract hipster paradise.
- Ian Christe, February 1996

Petit's imagery has a disturbing psychodramatic, stream of consciousness depth, as "The Grimm Tale (Or the Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was)" indicates. Petit, in fact, has acknowledged her interest in mental illness, more particularly, "the definitions, distinctions and grey areas of altered states, as well as the general fear that lies within our society of being perceived as 'crazy' or 'not normal'" -- even though there is something clearly crazy or not normal about our society. Indeed, the altered state of consciousness conventionally considered crazy is represented again and again in Petit's work, as "The Mutant Gene & Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow" indicates ... Petit uses the spectacle format -- the mode of presentation in our society, thanks to the media -- to creative advantage. But, instead of using it to immobilize us into benign passivity, as is usually the case, she uses it to activate our unconscious anxieties. One might say she is ecstatically anxious ...
- Donald Kuspit

World Art Magazine
The Mutant Gene & Tainted Kool Aid SideShow recreates a performance of the same name that she staged several times around the city in 1993. Through a mix of live action, video and synthesized sound, Petit evokes a world of misfits and psychological freaks ... The Mutant Gene, like the original performance, contains no text and very little spoken language. Computer technology lets the viewer select the duration of each section and the sequence of events, a kind of control difficult to implement in a conventional theater space. But intimacy rather than interactivity is clearly the point here. The videos are mostly extreme close-ups of Petit performing in a variety of grotesque masks, often appearing distorted and slavered with garish colors. A little poking around turns up a couple of more conventional music videos and some sinuous graphics ... that alternately evoke oscilloscope patterns and iomorphic Abstraction.

Petit cleverly uses the weaknesses of CD-ROM technology - its poor resolution, slow response times, limited screen size - to evoke a dream-like, carnival atmosphere. The result is a modest, captivating mood piece, a desktop-size cousin to Brian Eno's ambient video installations.
- Corey Powell, July 1996

OFFLine Magazine
The Mutant Gene and Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow. The brainstorm of web-magician and performance artist M. R. Petit, this CD-ROM is a must have! A thoroughly enjoyable ride through the world of abstraction. Originating in 1993 as multi-media circus-art extravaganza performed at various NYC venues, the 1995 CD-ROM incorporates live and animated images and text, and a barrage of interesting musical scapes. Following a multi-sensory introduction filled with wildly odd figures, the ROM then provides you with a living circular menu from which you choose your initial direction. Your aesthetic choice determines which color-rich psycho-odyssey you will embark on. And there are many!

It is easy to loose time in this cyber-situationist environment where stream of consciousness controls and captivates; where Dada is normative. Dreamtime is playtime here. Duration and direction are affected at will, images oscillate and meander within other changing images while patterns and sound react to mouse placement. Petit has pushed the envelope of web technology by making the process of experience both an act of deliberate experimentation and sheer creative fun.
It is noteworthy that the ideas and images in this ROM stem from a performance art piece, for it demonstrates not only how interrelated the various arts are, but also how successful techno-translations from non-cyber media can be when done with ingenuity and a love for the art. Doubtless, this ROM will be an inspiration to many performance artists whose audiences cannot possibly rival in numbers the distribution of a ROM or the intimacy of the experience.
I very much regret not ever having seen the multi-media performance that spawned this excellent ROM. I can't wait to experience Petit's next cyber-work! I would encourage you to pick this one up, and also to look into her other captivating techno-images.
- Scott Noegel

Computer Graphics World
... the videos and images are beautiful
- Cool Connections, April 1996

Mutant Gene and Tainted Kool-Aid Sideshow still