After a chat with artist David Khang, about various mergings of flesh and nonliving entities, I saw his installation, Amelogenesis Imperfecta (How Deep is the Skin of Teeth) at Vancouver’s grunt gallery with an enhanced appreciation for the shadowy demarcation between living entities (human and nonhuman) and between living and nonliving entities (this was à propos the work being done at the SymbioticA Centre in Australia, which is mentioned in the following excerpt) and some of the social and ethical questions that arise. Robin Laurence in her Sept. 13, 2012 article for the Georgia Straight newspaper/website describes both the installation and its influences,
With Khang’s newly launched works, Amelogenesis Imperfecta (How Deep Is the Skin of Teeth), on view at the grunt gallery until September 22, and Beautox Me, at CSA Space [#5–2414 Main Street] through October 7, he has again found formally and intellectually complex ways to meld his seemingly disparate professions. The grunt gallery installation includes microscopic laser drawings on epithelial cells and an animated short of a human tooth evolving into a fearsome, all-devouring shark. This work developed out of experiments Khang conducted during his 2010 residency at SymbioticA Centre for Biological Arts in Perth, Australia. “It began as a goal-oriented project to manufacture enamel,” he says, “but ended up being a meditation on ethical interspecies relations.” Fetal calf serum, he explains, is used “to fuel” all stem-cell research.
In our far ranging discussion, Khang (whose show at the Grunt [350 E. 2nd Avenue, Vancouver, ends on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012) and I discussed not only interspecies relations but also the integration of flesh with machine/technology,which is being explored and discussed at SymbioticA and elsewhere.
Coincidentally, one day after my chat with Khang I found this Sept. 19, 2012 article (Biohackers And DIY Cyborgs Clone Silicon Valley Innovation) by Neal Ungerleider for Fast Company (Note: I have removed links),
The grinders (DIY cybernetics enthusiasts) and their comrades in arms–biohackers working on improving human source code, quantified self enthusiasts who arm themselves with constant bodily data feeds, and independent DIY biotechnology enthusiasts–are moonlighting for now in basements, shared spaces, and makeshift labs. But they’re ultimately aiming to change the world. Think of how bionic [sic] legs like those belonging to Oscar Pistorius and cochlear implants that let the deaf hear have changed everyday life for so many people. Then multiply that by a million. A million people. And millions of dollars.
Not only has the new wave of do-it-yourself (DIY) cybernetics moved well beyond science fiction, it’s going to cause a business boom in the not-too-distant future.
I have two comments. (1) Pistorius does not have bionic legs but he does use some very high tech racing prosthetics, which I describe briefly in my July 27, 2009 posting in part 4 of a series on human enhancement. On the basis of this error, you may want to apply a little caution when reading the rest of Ungerleider’s article. (2) Prior to this article, I hadn’t considered machine/flesh integration as a business opportunity but clearly I’ve been shortsighted.
I was particularly interested in this following passage where Ungerleider mentions the fusion of the living and of the electronic.
In Brooklyn, a small “community biolab” called Genspace is home to approximately a dozen DIY biology experimenters whose work often involves the fusion of the living and the electronic. Classes are offered to the public in synthetic biology, which engineers living organisms as if they were biological machines.
A workshop recently held at Genspace, Crude Control, showed how in-vitro meat and leather could be created via tissue engineering, and it explored the possibility of creating semi-living “products” from them. Although the Genspace workshop was for educational purposes, similar technologies are already being monetized elsewhere–Peter Thiel recently sank six figures into a startup that will make 3-D printed in vitro meat commercially available.
The teacher at the Crude Control workshop, Oron Catts, [emphasis mine] walked participants through “basic tissue culture and tissue engineering protocols, including developing some DIY tools and isolating cells from a bone we got from a local butcher.” Some of Catts’ previous projects include bioengineering a steak from pre-natal sheep cells (in his words, “steak grown from an animal that was not yet born“) and victimless leather grown from cell lines. [emphases mine]
I emphasized Oron Catts because he is SymbioticA Centre’s director.From his biographical page on the SynbioticA Centre website,
Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project (which he founded in 1996 with Ionat Zurr) is part of the NY MoMA design collection and has been exhibited and presented internationally. In 2000 he co-founded SymbioticA, an artistic research laboratory housed within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Under Oron’s leadership, SymbioticA has gone on to win the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007) and became a Centre for Excellence in 2008.
Oron has been a researcher at The University of Western Australia since 1996 and was a Research Fellow at the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston from 2000-2001. He worked with numerous other bio-medical laboratories around the world. In 2007 he was a visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University. He is currently undertaking a “Synthetic Atheistic” residency which is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (USA) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK) to exploring the impactions of synthetic Biology; and is a Visiting Professor of Design Interaction, Royal College of Arts, London.
You can find out more about the SymbioticA Centre here.
As for the “steak grown from an animal that was not yet born” and “victimless leather,” the terminology hints while the description of the work demonstrates how close we are to a new reality in our relationships with nonhumans. Some readers may find the rest of Ungerleider’s article even more eyebrow-raising/disturbing/exciting.