Recently, my husband shared with me an article* about an unusual — and deeply thought-provoking — project: "Visceral: The Living Art Experiment". The article's inclusion of a link to the project site was, of course, an invitation to me to look, and I'm so pleased I did. What I found is one of the most engaging art-and-science initiatives I've seen since my friend, artist Rebecca Kamen, mounted her "Divining Nature", a homage to the Periodic Table.
Curated by Oron Catts, co-founder and director of research laboratory SymbioticA Biological Arts, and Dr. Ionat Zurr, artist, curator, and researcher, the "experiment" involves the creation of artworks from living tissue, a challenge for both the fine artists and biotechnologists who collaborated to bring this aptly titled project to fruition. Representing 10 years of work, its highlight is an exhibition at Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, ending this Friday with the gallery's "first ever funeral" during which the curators will "turn off" the "alive" biological art (for a number of safety and health reasons the artworks cannot be taken home by the artists).
The video immediately below gives an overview of "Visceral" and the hard-to-answer questions it asks of those who view it.
I've watched almost of all of the online video interviews with the artists or scientists exhibiting at Science Gallery. Below are two that I found to be particularly fascinating.
"Cryobooks Archives", explained here by artist Tagny Duff of Canada, is an installation of hand-made books crafted of human and pig ex-plant tissue, HaCat cells, and a synthetic biological virus. The artist used traditional techniques to bind her books. The work takes its name from the portable freezer that Duff uses as a mobile miniature library.
One of the more haunting pieces I viewed online, the "Semi-Living Worry Dolls", tissue sculptures engineered by Catts and Zurr, are inspired by Guatemalan worry dolls that children receive to whisper away their concerns at bedtime and wake up problem-free. The exhibit's hand-made "dolls" consist of degradable polymers and surgical sutures and were seeded with living cells that have, over their time in the exhibition, replaced the polymers, in effect becoming "alive". Visitors to Science Gallery may interact with the dolls by whispering their own worries into the dolls' digital "ears".
* The article requires a subscription to access, so I cannot share a link to it.
Catts and Zurr began their "Tissue Culture and Art Project" in 1996. It is an ongoing investigation into the use of tissue "technologies" in artistic practice.
Visceral Brochure (This is a 28-page pdf.)
Visceral Exhibits At a Glance (Click on images to open a page about the artwork and to view a video interview.)
Visceral on NPR (This features an interview with artist Kathy High's about her exhibit "Blood Wars", as well as a video in which High explains her production process.) Visit this page to find additional articles and broadcasts about the project and exhibits.
Science Gallery on FaceBook and Twitter
Mayan "Trouble Dolls" of Guatemala (Also see this BBC article on worry dolls.)