killing denouement

bio art: how could you kill a jacket?
By cutting off its nutrient supply, apparently. A recent MOMA exhibit, Victimless Leather, “died” just five weeks into the show. Unfortunately I never saw the real thing, and only heard about this after the fact from and the NY Times). Created by Australian artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, the piece was essentially grown from living tissue – not human, but embryonic stem cells from mice.

The thing? creature? (I don’t even know what to call it – I guess this really puts a new spin on ‘breathable cloth’) was fed nutrients by a tube,as pictured. It looks weirdly like a heart on dialysis? And then, in something that sounds like it belongs in a tripped out scifi movie, the tiny jacket grew too quickly and managed to clog its own incubation system. Its parent artists, meanwhile were already back in Australia, leaving it’s fate to the show’s curator, Paola Antonelli.

She decided to turn off its life support system, essentially “killing” the little jacket. In a televised interview with the Art Newspaper, she said the jacket

“started growing, growing, growing until it became too big. And [the artists] were back in Australia, so I had to make the decision to kill it. And you know what? I felt I could not make that decision. I’ve always been pro-choice and all of a sudden I’m here not sleeping at night about killing a coat…That thing was never alive before it was grown.”

Catts says his intention is “to raise questions about our exploitation of other living beings”.

I don’t know about that. (At that, I feel like I’m writing about animal rights issues rather a lot for someone who’s explicitly vegetarian-but-not-because-of-the-animals, if that makes sense. Perhaps it goes with the territory?). The questions raised for me hover more around the ethics of stem cell use. And, worryingly, the way that this could be pounced upon by pro=lifers.

Yes, the mini-story above is written in a fairly sensationalist manner (and deliberately so), but I can’t help but extrapolate this to a foetus. Somewhat militantly pro-choice, I’ve never really considered a foetus to be alive until it’s a baby – that is, born. This is to say, I don’t even have a problem with third trimester abortions, though I suspect this will change. Yet this piece makes me start to wonder just when something becomes ‘alive’, or rather, ‘sentient’. This attainment of a thinking consciousness (secular, please) has always marked the ethical boundary for me with regards to abortion. Yet if I stop to think this through, why does a foetus necessarily become sentient as soon as it is exposed to air, almost like the darkening of fresh blood?

In looking up the artists, I found they interestingly term their tissue culture art projects as ‘semi-living’. They say,

Tissue engineering holds much promise for improving the quality of human life. However, tissue engineering for artistic purposes has largely been overlooked… our goal is to create a contestable vision of futuristic objects that are partly artificially constructed and partly grown/born. We have grown tissue sculptures,”semi-living” objects, by culturing cells on artificial scaffolds in bioreactors. These entities (sculptures) blur the boundaries between what is born/manufactured, animate/inanimate and further challenge our perceptions and our relations toward our bodies and constructed environment.

This is what art should really be about, no? In other growth-related happenings, pig bladder powder apparently has regenerative properties, causing amputated limbs to regrow. (This is actually legit – follow the link to see a BBC vid of it in action). Now, the US government’s apparently getting in on the act to ostensibly try help the 1000 or so amputeed vets from the Iraq occupation.

The severed fingers stuffed with bone crunchy red writing implements in the middle, meanwhile, are from California artist Tim Hawkinson. Also via grinding.

die fetten jahre sind vorbei – the fat years aren’t over yet

Since writing about The Edukators a while back, I’ve come back to it a fair number of times. Not to give away any of the plot (see it, it’s brilliant), but the end sentiment shuffles somewhat over to “some people never change” as quoted on the note at the end. A literalised writing on the wall if you will, with the person in question being a german ex-SDSer – turned corporate millionaire- ostensibly still with the radicredientials of his student days.

But just how sustainable is student activism anymore? Since then, at least from what I can gather in the US, the nature of the university system itself seems to have changed. In ’68,
you could graduate $2000 or $3000 in debt and go on to be a committed activist for the rest of your life; many of the 68 vets have done just this. Today you’re going to be graduating from the same schools with something like $100k in debt. and activism is almost something you have to give up as you hit your senior year, if this makes sense. Similarly, whereas most stuff went down at big elite institutions like Columbia or UC – Berkley, today it’s happening at state, community and even high school campuses, which is especially incredible. What then will the future look like – are many of SDS, for example, destined to become the same kind of benevolent i-bankers, corrupting the system from within (if at all)?

I don’t know when said fat years will be over. But in the year of the pig, corporate branding reaches new levels, with pigs getting Louis Vuitton tattoes. There’s an interview over at if it’s hip it’s here with Belgian artist Wim Deloye, a vegetarian who tattoos live pigs (albeit sedated) for art’s sake. To quote from the interview:

Wim: I started tattooing pig hides, which I’d get from the slaughterhouses, in 1994. It was only in 1997 that I started to work on live sedated pigs. I tattoo pigs because they grow fast and they are so much better to tattoo than fish. I tattoo them when they are young and I like the way the artwork stretches and distorts over time. Essentially, we invest in small tattoos and we harvest large paintings.

I don’t know how I feel about the cruelty aspect of this, but some of the stretched pigskins look too much like human skin for comfort. There’s some more examples at the same site.



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