Rayfish Footware: A Bioart Experiment?

Rayfish Footware is a brand new company, which claims to be able to sell genetically modified (biocustomised) stingray leather shoes to consumers. Their claims are fantastical and to some extent fairly ridiculous. While the company  released a full press release last month which has been reported as fact by many news sources, this is very likely a hoax – having a number of tell tale signs.

Find out why it is a hoax and watch a video by the CEO of Rayfish Footware explaining his company after the break.

This video was posted in May 2012, but claims to be from a conference which happened last year. Watch the video closely, does it seem real or fake? While not certain, I’m not particularly sold that this conference is anything more than an elaborate piece of bioart which is attempting to bring the concerns of tomorrow to the world of today. NextNature (the group who hosted the video) are closely affiliated with the bioart community and this is exactly the sort of thing I can imagine them doing.

Of course there are some more tell tale signs of this whole thing being a hoax. In their interactive “grow sneaker” designer one of the patterns is labeled simply “bambi”. At a price of $1800, these shoes don’t look like they will have too many customers either. Then of course there is the  blatant disregard to public image which the company seems to have, completely ignoring people’s angered responses. Unless of course those responses are the purpose of the website in the first place…

My theory is that this endeavour is really little more than a well thought out bioart experiment. By presenting this futuristic company, they are able to see how the world responds to it – and its going excellently. The first major point is how readily most people seem to accept that this is real and can actually happen. If this had been done ten years ago I don’t think the response would be the same. I think this tells of how much the world has grown to accept the possibilities of new genetic engineering technology – people really do believe that this sort of thing is possible. And to be honest they aren’t too wrong either, its not entirely unfeasible that we could really do something like this soon – if it wasn’t such a horrible business idea.

The other really interesting thing too come out of this is people’s reactions to the work – which have largely been negative. The choice of stingray leather was clearly an antagonising one, given how much criticism it already gets – and this has lead many people voicing their disgust in the seeming lack of animal ethics involved. Others seem directly concerned with the use of genetic modification, often making the assumption that a different pattern is somehow hurting the creature. More reasonable voices have come up and pointed out that its really not all that dissimilar to the use of cows for normal leather – thus giving the debate some real world relevance.

It will be interesting to watch more people’s reactions to this over the coming months and weeks – it is an amazing insight into the different ways people respond when confronted with biotechnology. And who knows, maybe Rayfish Footware is real after all?

What do you think? Would you wear Rayfish shoes if given the chance?

31st of July – UPDATE: Having watched Rayfish closely over the last month I am still unsure of their status as a hoax or a real company. They are certainly trying very hard to look real – so I must confess to not being so sure anymore! I’ll keep my eyes open – there is still something fishy about them (pun intended 😉 ).

11th of September – UPDATE: further posts from the group including a clearly staged “animal activists freed the rays” stunt makes it very clear that this is not a real company. I stand by my original hypothesis of this being a clever bioart experiment. I have to admit they have kept me wondering at times though.

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