We Are Cells: BioArt, Semi-Livings, and Visceral Threat

Kate Rossmanith


In September 2003, the National Gallery of Victoria refused to exhibit an artwork that used human tissue as part of its installation. Extra Ear – ¼ Scale was developed by artists from Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A), including Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr, in collaboration with performance artist, Stelarc. Using Stelarc’s cartilage cells, they grew a scaled-down replica of a human ear; an object of partial life – living and growing tissue – that resembled the shape of a human organ. But, according to Catts and Zurr, two weeks before the show was due to open the curators at NGV said that they had no policy in regard to presenting living tissues in their gallery (2006a: 160). After continued negotiations with the artists – including a request by the gallery that the artists include a statement indicating that the work did not raise ethical issues, a statement the artists could not provide because ‘we see the primary aim of our work to act as a tangible example of issues that need further ethical scrutiny, and to critically engage with the biomedical industry’ (2006a: 160) – both parties compromised. A human ear grown with mouse cells was to be exhibited instead (for image see http://www.tca.uwa.edu.au/extra/images_extra_ear.html).

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