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Baker grows up in an age transformed by technology. Twenty years earlier, his mother had her fertilized egg illegally endowed with genes that would give him potential to become a visual artist. His is a world in which genetic profiles, space travel, and gender reassignment are common. Global warming has altered the environment. A planetary war between women and men rages, familial structures have shattered, and new religions contend with the old.
Yet human needs remain the same. Baker is obsessed with sex, he searches for love, he seeks immortality, first through religion and then through art. Inspired by his dreams, nightmares, and fantasies, Baker rejects digital technology and teaches himself to make images with his own hands. When he reveals the secret of his gifts, his life is in danger.
In prose, poetry, and pictures, Hugh Nissenson creates a new kind of narrative about the inner life of the artist and a cautionary tale about the human desire to control evolution. Spare, original, and extraordinary, The Song of the Earth brilliantly captures another time and place and presents a haunting portrait of an artist as a young man in the twenty-first century.
The book's title comes from the title of Baker's favorite poem:
The Song of the Earth
by Clorene Welles
& devour life.
I father forms
that thrive &
those that fade.
I'm the sheath
& rusts its blade,
this patch of sunlight,
that patch of shade.
John Firth Baker was the first genetically engineered visual artist. A confluence of fundamental contemporary expressions of creativity-science, art, and religion-made him into a uniquely twenty-first-century phenomenon.
A bound and printed book like this is a fit commemorative for Baker, who cherished bound books. Baker was a self-taught manual artist; his figurative images, always the work of his own hands, appeal to the sense of touch, as well as sight. They convey Baker's deepest feelings, his fantasies and dreams. The political and sectarian uses to which his art was put by others made him famous at nineteen; then he was murdered.
Baker was posthumously transformed into a myth, which continues to grow. His work is now given an iconic significance he never consciously intended. Gaians claim the images he made, particularly those they call "Baker's Dozen," are tangible visions of his quest for Gaian Consciousness.
John Firth Baker's inner life was more complex-far richer-than that. He died before he could fulfill his promise as an artist. Yet his handful of work endures. Baker was an American original. This book tells his whole story for the first time.
I organized The Song of the Earth around interviews I