CATTS and IONAT ZURR - Perth
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.
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:
- Who is going to make the decision about
the direction this technology is going to take us?
- On what set of values are these decisions
going to be based?
- Do we have the tools to evaluate what is
good or bad in regard to biological technologies and in regard to its ecological
outcome and its culture/social aspect?
- Are our values going to change as these
technologies take over?
- And if we are not sure about the answers
for the questions above then can we generate a shift in cultural perception
that will open a way to utilise biotechnology for a utopian future?
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.
The TC&A hypothesis:
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.
- To be able to use and generate a completely
new art form, that is yet to be explored and utilized. The manipulation
growth of living cells in vitro conditions represents a new form of artistic
expression with the unique combination of shapes, colours, and movement.
An exploration of such aesthetics in three-dimensional space, was as far
as we know, never utilized and explored artistically.
- To highlight current technological developments
and their cultural and social implications. It is obvious that technological
and scientific developments are exceeding the cultural capacity to comprehend
those changes. That is why this kind of artistic expression is so important
now. Art can be seen as the optimal medium to generate a discussion and
a debate dealing with the contradictions between, on the one hand, what
we know about the world and, on the other hand, societys values which
are still based on outdated and traditional perceptions of the world.
- To create a dialogue between the wider community
and the scientific community, using art as a generator of critical and aesthetics
- To explore the use of tissue engineering
to develop semi-living entities.
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.
Culture and Art Project online:
Oron Catts' and Ionat Zurr's page at conVerge