Aesthetics of Parts: humans and other animals are 'becoming' each other.
By Ionat Zurr & Oron Catts
…It was her 16th birthday and she knew that from today she would finally be able to get a legal implant (most of her friends had one already). She had been planning that for a while. A Few months ago she went to the Implants Farm and checked the catalogue and the displays. She knew immediately what she wanted: a pair of decorative wings. Just like those of hamster-bat she got for Christmas when she was ten. The farm's practitioner took a biopsy from her inner-thigh and then showed the scaffold design. "Would I fly?" she asked. He laughed, " Ho no, that will require a complete redesign of your body and even then you will only be able to glide. These wings are designed to go with the current fashion of backless dresses." "What about these feathered wings?" she inquired. "I don't think your parents have the budget" he replied " and, beside, they will not grow with you, they are for adults only." It was a regular procedure and the risk of contamination was reduced to less than 3%. The farmer took her behind the office, to the implants growth factory. She looked through the glass window to the sterile farm, where pigs with different body parts seamlessly attached to them lay in pools of clear liquids. He showed her to "her pig". She immediately liked "her pig". It was smooth and its skin colour was just like hers. The farmer explained that the pig carried human genes to increase human-pig compatibility. She trusted the pig to carry and grow her wings till they would be grafted back to her (A story of an upper class girl, 2028).
Deleuze and Guattari metaphor of 'becoming animal' till there is no longer man or animal' is becoming real with the advance in xenotransplantation, genetics, tissue technologies and stem cells research. Artists dealing with hands on wet biology art practice are exploring the tangibility of such abstraction. As artists working for the last six years with living tissues we have come to realize the reality of a fragmented body and 'self'. We have grown and sustained alive for long periods (up to six months) communities of cells independently from their original host. We have grown them externally to a body as part of our on going research into growing semi-living sculptures . The above biological technologies open up an array of body treatment, enhancement and modification. It suggests contestable futures of cross-species and mergers that will profoundly question current held moral and belief systems. Organ transplantation is now a common procedure practiced in the biomedical field. Organs are being harvested from either living or dead donors in order to extend lives. This practice of 'extended bodies', like any other practice, operates within the socio-economic fabric, enabling the well off to receive more and better-conditioned organs, such as young healthy livers for affluent alcoholics. Organ trade and organ theft are widely practiced around the world. Organs become commodities that can extend life as well as be used for body enhancement and modifications. The first case of a hand transplant demonstrated the use of organ transplant techniques for proposes beyond strictly saving life. The media reported that the recipient requested that the 'new' hand be removed from him as 'He said it was like a dead man's hand with no feeling in it' and 'he felt "mentally detached" from it , focused attention to the complex relations between the self and the introduced extension. Different aspects of art expression have been dealing with the mix/fusion of identities, genders and classes between the "selves" of the donor's organ and its recipient: A murderer's heart implanted in its victim's body and so forth. One human is becoming a hybrid of two humans. The shortage in human organs has encouraged a research into xenotransplantation. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of cells, tissues or organs from non-humans. This procedure crosses a species barrier that has evolved over millions of years. Furthermore, The procedure involves genetic manipulation and insertion of human genes into the animal (mainly pig) genome for better compatibility. The human-animal cross, from a biomedical perspective, presents new procedures and new risks that can only be assessed in a perspective of a time scale of more than one-generation. 'Tricking' the evolutionary mechanism by surgical and chemical means to suppress the immune system in the organ recipient and introducing pathogens and viruses from another species may result in unrecognized and new virus infections and other clinical syndromes. Also, the cross infections among humans (and their offspring) is unknown. Bach (1998) in his call for a moratorium on all human xenotransplantations, titles his commentary as "individual benefit versus collective risk". Nevertheless, insertion of pig cells into humans is being done, such as insertion of pig's Porcine cells into brains of patients with neurological diseases. The human-animal physical cross is still facing biological and ethical hurdles. Though its potential in terms of 'the becoming animal' offers a new dimension; a physical human-animal hybrid. Tissue engineering technologies have been offered as another solution to deal with the shortage in body parts. Tissue engineering is a technique that offers the construction and growths of an organ in vitro (outside of the body) using the patient's own cells, and the re-implementation of the organ back to the recipient. It is intriguing that the image of the subject/object who brought tissue engineering into the public psyche was the mouse with the ear on its back. A nude mouse (a mouse with suppressed immune system) was used as a bioreactor, hence as a 'vessel' for the growth of an organ. The scaffold of the ear was constructed out of special biodegradable polymers and seeded, in vitro, with cartilage and skin cells from the earless patient. As the cells grew over/into the scaffold it degraded. In an early stage during this process the construct was attached to the mouse, which acted as a nutrient supplier and temperature regulator. The walking sniffing chimera 'scarred' each human who were exposed to it. One may suggest, that it has become one of the most important icons of the late 20th century. A living icon of our unlimited sculpting and designing abilities to create the creatures/monsters of our imaginations and the possibility to sculpt and design ourselves in these shapes. Stem cells are the current 'holly grail' in the biomedical field. Embryonic stem cells are cells before differentiation. Hence, these cells have the ability to divide to any type of tissue, when they are given the right conditions and appropriate growth factors. The general idea behind this promise is the ability to clone an identical twin with identical DNA. This twin should not necessarily develop into a whole human being. It can become A 'Bag of organs' with no central nervous system that will be there in case you need or desire an organ. "My twin is a liver" can become not only a figure of speech. The combination of stem cells and tissue engineering technologies can be appropriated not only for saving/extending life and/or the growth and construction of organs in the "original design". These technologies open up a gate to the treatment of a living body as a malleable entity. One will be able to attach a tail, a horn or any fashion driven shape of tissue to 'its' own limited and less than perfect body. In the socio-economic climate in which these technologies operate, we can speculate on the large divide between the well off and the less advantaged as well as between the human species and the rest of the animal kingdom. We can also speak about the playfulness and decision making based purely on aesthetics and/or fashion driven taste. As all of these technologies will become more available in different forms and different prices, the idea of Organ Farms (for replacement, modification and enhancement) might become a reality. Body parts made out of different animals tissues might become objects of desire. The traditional view of a body as one autonomous unchangeable self will go through a radical change. Body parts are designed, exchanged, replaced and sustained in a semi-living state as part of the environment. Animals are being used as a bioreactor for the growth of other parts. Naturally, as we suffer from speciesm, non-humans animals such as pigs will become the "vessels" for the growth of ears, noses and other body decorations. Stem cells technologies for the rich, pig farms for the poor and the adventurous. Actualizing Deleuze and Guattari's "becoming an animal" to physical actuality will severely challenge current belief systems, which are unable to account for developments in biological technologies. Are you willing to take this day trip to the farm?
About the authors: Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts are biological artists who are presenting the 'Pig Wings' project as part of Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art 2002. In this project they have used pig's bone marrow stem cells and three dimensional bio-absorbable polymer scaffolds in order to grow pig bone tissue wings in the shape of the three solutions for flight in vertebrates. This project was developed in SymbioticA the Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy and Human Biology, UWA and as part of a one-year residency as research fellows at the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School > During this residency, Ionat & Oron have met scientists researching xenotransplantation and worked with the scientists who produced the mouse with the ear on its back. More about the Pig Wings and other projects of the 'Tissue Culture & Art'.