The Tissue Culture & Art Project

Tissue Culture and Art (TC&A) is an ongoing research and development project into the use of tissue culture and tissue engineering as a medium for artistic expression. The TC&A Project is built on the strong belief that biologically related technologies are going to have a dramatic effect on human evolution and human history in the near future. Furthermore, the TC&A project utilizes biologically related technologies (mainly tissue culture and tissue engineering) as a new form of artistic expression to focus attention and challenge perceptions regarding the fact that these technologies exist, are being utilised, and will have even more dramatic effect in the future.

t i s s u e  c u l t u r e  &  a r t   p r o j e c t

We are at the early stages of the biological revolution. What we see now, genetic engineering, cloning, IVF, organ transplants etc, are just the embryonic stages of what is to come. This revolution deals with the core of life. Humans and their natural environment are going to change to the extent that we will have to redefine the terms 'Human' and 'Nature'.

Biotechnology enables us, for the first time, to use and manipulate living matter at the level of the genes. Working with the blue print of life, biotechnology offers us option to design life and reconstruct tissue from the most fundamental level.

The concept of using semi-living products can be seen as way to minimize the risks associated with new technologies as well as a way to eliminate some of the problems regarding the existing technologies and culture of consumerism. Changing the culture of production from manufacturing to growing, for example, could reduce the environmental problems associated with the process of manufacturing. The relationships that consumers will form with these semi-living products will be different from the relationships they have with inanimate products. This can reduce the amount of waste; moving from a throw away culture into a more caring one.

Our future, the future of the living world and its evolution, is going to change through a direct and premeditated action of one species. This will change the rules of the evolutionary game. Harnessing the massive amount of biological knowledge and processes with the aid of the achievements of the digital revolution, will result in a future that will be radically different from everything humanity has experienced in the past. Furthermore, our social and philosophical understandings of ourselves and our environment will be fundamentally different.

The questions that are raised from these statements are:

We feel that not enough attention is directed at proposing, examining and questioning possible futures that this new revolution takes us.

TC&A was initiated in 1996 by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr. It is an open project that evolved from a theoretical examination. The original idea came from Oron's thesis in which he explored possible futures that involve designed biological objects. In this research Oron was interested in producing semi-living objects (products) which would be used for purposes other than medical and agricultural. He came up with the concept of a custom grown living surface, examining the ecological and social considerations relating to the development of such a product, and different possible ways to produce a living added surface.

The concept for a living added surface was simple: A climber shrub growing over a wall can be seen as a 'primitive' example of this concept. The shrub acts as an added surface for the exterior wall. The shrub growth is being controlled by technology; secretors are used to prune it and an artificial support system is being used to direct and control its growth.

In his research, Oron was looking at more sophisticated ways to achieve living added surfaces. One of the most interesting and promising possibilities that he came across was the use of tissue engineering.

Tissue engineering deals with constructing artificial support systems (with the use of bio-materials) to direct and control growth of tissue in order to replace or support the function of defective or injured body parts. It is a multidisciplinary area which involves biologists (tissue and cell culture), chemists (bio-material), engineers (CAD/CAM) and medical practitioners.

Tissue engineering usually involves the construction of artificial degradable bio-polymer scaffolding in the desired shape, which is then seeded with the appropriate cells and immersed in a solution rich with nutrients and growth factors.

If we are able to grow something as complex as a fully functioning hand why not change the design to suit other tasks? And if we can keep an organ as complex as a hand in vitro conditions why not design semi-living objects for us to use that would be sustained alive outside of the body for the duration of their use? The TC&A Project also asks, if this is possible, should we go down this path?

The project was realized after we approached Prof. Miranda Grounds from the Department of Anatomy and Human Biology in UWA. She was very enthusiastic making this idea real and together with funds from PICA we started the first stage of TC&A.

As opposed to the art of the 60's and 70's, this project does not reject technology as such. Furthermore, unlike the art of the 80's and 90's does not look at the border between the machine and the human body, but rather looks at the seamless interaction between living entity and non-living entity outside of the human body. In many ways, TC&A looks at the introduction of a high-tech nature which blur the boundaries among different organisms and species and their environment.

To summarise we would like to re-emphasise why are we doing this project.

It is hard to predict what the future will be like. In regard to the TC&A Project, however, we have a few ideas: We see the next evolutionary development of this project as moving toward organ culturing. Most of all we look forward to the day when we will take our living work outside of the laboratory.


The Tissue Culture and Art Project online:



Visit Oron Catts' and Ionat Zurr's page at conVerge

Adam Donovan

Justine Cooper

David Rogers