Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Catts: Vacanti Mouse

From: Oron Catts
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2007 20:02:37 +0900

Hi all
This is an interesting tread and I would like to get into it on both fronts
The Wiseman human brained mouse and Vacanti’s mouse. But first I would like to add to Eugene’s SF comment - as mentioned else where much of the developments in the life science and in particular in the area of molecular biology are over hyped (sometimes referred to as DNA mania (Andre Pichot) or Genohype (Neil Holtzman). The interesting thing is that as a result both the opponents and the proponents of developments of biotech subscribe to the same hyperbole rhetoric that exaggerate the power of this technology- hence we have a debate that creates unrealistic expectations as well as fears which have very little to do with the actualities of the knowledge and its application. One of the best examples was the use of the ear-mouse in an ad in the NY times (attached) where the mouse was used as an icon of the monstrosities that genetic engineering. The problem is that as you know –this mouse had nothing to do with molecular/genetic intervention. How can we then have a credible debate? Ionat and myself just finished a paper addressing it and in particular the ongoing straggle we have to distance our work from the discourse of GE and molecular biology.

As for the ear mouse- Vladimir rightly mention the failure of Vacanti's mouse to produce the ear that would keep its structure. This poster boy ofTissue engineering can be seen as one of the most celebrated technological(note- not scientific) failures. The question is did Vacannti know at the time that it is not going to work - and released the image as he was aware of its highly evocative nature as away to show the possible potential of tissue engineering and call attention to the new ways of dealing with living materials - I know that it evoked me and was one of the major influences on my decision to work with tissue engineering as my medium of artistic research. One of the reasons for that was that this mouse represented the surrealist project comes alive but by someone who did not call on the history of these types of images. In a sense like any "good" "bioart" pieceits strength was in it's eventual failure - making it a non utilitarian culturally evocative object - and in my books that the closer one can get to an art piece. I still have a dream of trying to collect artistic references to the ear mouse for a show. Vladimir talks about a transgenic muse at the San Jose science museum - well in the science museum in Shanghai that had amouse with an ear on its back - it was made specifically for them and was presented alive for awhile - it is now preserved and presented (intestinally enough) in the section of the museum the celebrates our "genetically engineered future"... Irving Weissman's human-mouse hybrid was even more explicitly presented (at first at least) as a theoretical object for debate (seehttp://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9400E5DA1738F934A15752C1A9649C8B63 )This project (among other things) prompt Ionat and myself to develop our new project (see project description below). But before that I would like to comment about Jens reference to epistemology vs ontology, it is interesting to note that when we started to work in this area we thought that we are dealing with an epistemological crisis however, in the last couple of years we realise more and more that we are dealing first and foremost with ontological questions. It is not surprising then that we see our work as dealing with life rather then cognitivistic approach of art and science(back to knowledge production vs meaing production).

Here is the blurb about our new project:

NoArk is a research project exploring the taxonomical crisis that is presented by life forms created through biotechnology. NoArk will take form as an experimental vessel designed to maintain and grow a mass of living cells and tissues that originated from a number of different organisms. This vessel will serve as a surrogate body to the collection of living fragments, and will be a tangible as well as symbolic ‘craft’ for observing and understanding a biology that combines the familiar with the other. As opposed to classical methodologies of collection, categorization anddisplay that are seen in Natural History museums, contemporary biologicalresearch is focused around manipulation and hybridization, and rarely takesa public form.To create NoArk we will use cellular stock taken from tissue banks,laboratories, museums and other collections. NoArk will contain a chimerical‘blob’ made out of modified living fragments of a number of differentorganisms, living, in a techno-scientific body. In a sense, we will be making a unified collection of unclassifiable sub-organisms.

NoArk will critically examine and make strange contemporary life sciences’ formations that confront our familiar ordering of the living world: How do taxonomical systems based on traditional classification accommodate life forms created by humans? We hope to answer this through the development of strategies to collect, display and preserve sub-life (lab made cellularlife), visit and research Natural History collections/practices, consult with experts in regard to a place for sub organisms in current taxonomy and research and collect what widely referred to as anomalies that do not adhere to traditional classifications. In addition to the philosophical and ethical dialogues that we feel this project will engage with we are also interested in artistic and technological strategies for maintaining and exhibiting living collections of sub-organisms in a vessel for long periods of time. NoArk will offer an evocative tangible ‘semi-living’ system which will further problamitise human anthropocentric desire to classify the living world around it. NoArk will present ecology of parts as an attempt to observe the living world through a post-anthropocentric system; once we have become fragmented into tissues and cells, the possibility of being embedded within each other, and within the greater living world emerge; the Human is not the centre but rather a part of a larger changing ecosystem. Ultimately, this will be presented as an installation in which the vessel containing living tissue constructs will be displayed as a chimera, alongside technologically preserved specimens of organisms. The project will involve developing methods of co-culturing different celltypes from different organisms over 3D matrixes inside a costume designed vessel.NoArk will present materiality of life and its forms, in a time that life is becoming a raw material for utilitarian manipulation. We believe that artists should offer alternative modes of engagements with the material of life. Description Rapid developments in the life sciences and its applied technologies have created new ways for beings to come into the world, and ew categories of existence that are challenging the order of the world. This requires us- humans to rethink our understandings and our relationships with our own identity/body, other animals, as well as the concept of lifeitself. The growing number of ‘labmade’ life forms, either modified living organisms or different combinations of modified living fragments such as cell-lines and tissue (which we refer to as sub-life or sub-organisms), requires special attention. In pharmacological factories, research universities, and other technologically driven institutions there already exists a mass of disassociated living cells and tissues (sub-life) in thethousands of tons. These fragments do not fall under current biological or cultural classifications. We created the Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A)in 1996 mainly as a way to define this category of life and, at the same time, as an attempt to destabilize some of the rooted perceptions of the classification of living beings. We see TC&A, and our other attempt to grow aspects of the extended body, as an amalgamation of the extended human phenotype– a disembodied body that is unified in living fragments, and anontological device for re-examining current taxonomies and hierarchical perceptions of life. The extended body is by no means a fixed, scientifically binding order; it is rather a soft, artistic and conceptual view of the subject of technologically mediated and augmented life. NoArk is an attempt to develop this idea further by engaging with the notion of the collection of parts that constitute a whole. By creating a device that will allow the co-culturing and fusion of cellsand tissues from different genotypes and phenotypes (i.e. from differentorganisms and different tissue types) NoArk will present the breakdown ofboth Linnaean taxonomy and Molecular systematics (chemotaxonomy). A newtechnologically mediated ecology of semi-living fragments that will question deep rooted perceptions of life and highlight the need for re-evaluation ofhuman relationships with the greater living world.

The new sites for the collection of specimens of ‘neo-organisms’ are the life science/engineering laboratory, the research hospital, the biotechindustry, and increasingly among artists and amateurs/hobbyists. These specimens of neo-organisms and sub-organisms are catalogued and collected systematically, in tissue banks, research institutes and the patent office. However, most of these systems have little connection to historically agreed upon taxonomies of the natural world. The appearance of these new forms of life in the public arena is, say, more akin to the cabinets of curiosities then to the natural history museum, and it is almost always anthropocentric. As part of its historical narrative, NoArk will investigate the construction of knowledge through the acts of collection and classification as manifested by natural history museums, which stand in opposition to the disorganized and unique conglomerations found in cabinets of curiosity. We will also contrast these two historic attempts to systemise life to the development of modern biological curiosities, bringing into question deep rooted perception and beliefs about the ordering of life. In NoArk we will explore collections of natural history museums, tissue and cell banks, and biological laboratories.

Cell and tissue culture:
NoArk will house cell-lines that we will obtain from various cell and tissue banks. Cell lines can broadly be defined as modified cells (often immortalised) that are derived from primary culture (cells and tissues that are taken from complex organisms). An established or immortalised cell line has acquired the ability to proliferate indefinitely, either through random mutation or deliberate modification. There are numerous well established cell lines representative of particular cell types, from a wide range ofsources. We are particularly interested in cell lines that are established from cells of two or more individuals, and cells in which their origin is designated as one type of organism while being classified as another (such as the McCoy cell line that originated from a human and is now classified as a mouse cell line). It is interesting to note that there was at least one attempt to classify a cell line as a new type of organism that should fall under traditional classification, Helacyton gartleri (Van Valen & Maiorana1991).

For the last ten years we have worked with, and in some cases developed, environments for cells and tissues to grow within. These environments are often called bioreactors, and we refer to them as the Techno-Scientificbody. For this project we will be interested in working with new types of bioreactors as well as developing a prototype vessel/bioreactor that will allow us to dynamically co-culture different types of cells. The bioreactor will act as the visual foundation for the conceptual underpinning of the project while also functioning as a vessel for its enclosed cells.

Being located at a lab in a biological science school within a research university will enable us to order the cells of interest without breaching any regulations and material transfer agreements (we feel that it is important to note this, in the light of artist Steve Kurtz’s case in which he is facing court for getting biological materials that were ordered on his behalf by a scientist). Having ten years experience in tissue culture and tissue engineering we are now interested in perfecting our techniques for co-culturing and fusing cells from different species. We will analyse the successes and the types of fusion using the expertise of Dr. Stuart Hodgetts. This stage will be monitored and documented using the microscopy facilities available for us in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, the University of Western Australia. We will also learn new techniques in the DEPARTAMENTO DEENGENHARIA BIOLĂ“GICA at the Universidade do Minho, Portugal. This part of the project will help us to scientifically, conceptually, and metaphorically learn more about cells interrelations inside a techno-scientific body. Growing the cells over and into different matrixes will be an integral and important part of the biological research as well as towards the final visual presentation. We will be developing the prototype for NoArk using both modified scientific equipment as well as of-the shelves materials. We were fortunate to get the use of a bioreactor for free for a year. This is an expensive and significant piece of equipment that will enable us to learn about methods and technologies employed to grow cells externally to their host body. This bioreactor represents a novel way of growing tissue in a clear soft environment, it is also unique as it is a stand alone bench-top bioreactor that does not requires an incubator for its operation, and all of its operations can be controlled from a computer. Working with the Wavebioreactor will enable us to look at ways of modifying the system for thedevelopment of the first prototype of NoArk.Working with Dr. Clive McFarland from the Biomaterials and TissueEngineering Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, UNSW will enable usto research the use of hollow fibres as both delivery system and a substratefor the cell and tissue growth. His expertise will be invaluable in thedevelopment of the Vessel and other aspects of the NoArk prototype.The development of the bioreactor represents another possible benefit to thedevelopment of low cost biomedical equipment; we will be developing a cheap,large scale bioreactor for coculturing cells and tissue and might be able tocome up with some novel approaches that will be able to be used by otherresearchers and artists.

The exploration of strategies to collect, preserve and display neo-life and sub-life will benefit both the emerging field of biological art and possibly will contribute to collecting and preserving specimens of lab-made life forms. This will allow for the development of systematic approaches to be adapted by research institutes and museums who wish to collect and preserve these types of specimens. This will be conducted by talking to specialists in the Western Australian Museum (as well as other museums around the world) and having accesses to methods as well as collections in the natural history museum. We have formed strong relationships with the Western Australia Museum, which holds a vast collection of animal specimens, including marsupials, platypuses etc. these unique animals by themselves presented a taxonomical challenge. The WA Museum will assist us in developing strategies of collection and preservations using their well established procedures and protocols. We have located few locations which have began to tackle the issue of systematically collecting sub life and its orderly preservations. Examples are ATTC (the American Tissue Type Collection) – a global bioresource centre (which most laboratories around the world work with) and the San-Diego Zoo’s Bioresource Banking project and in particular the Frozen Zoo and Adult StemCell Acquisition and Culture programs that positioned in a very interestingjuncture of collection and classification. We will attempt to useBioresource Banking project as a benchmark to question its epistemology,explore its rhetoric and strategies of collection and preserving sublife. None of these resources have explores artistic sub-life or artistically driven public displays of the new sub-lives and their peculiar position in the continuum of life. NoArk will be displayed as a semi-living artistic vessel along side preserved living organisms (specimens) arranged to reflect new taxonomies. It will offer a visual interpretations of the so called ‘new order’ by presenting, maintaining and growing our living and semi-living collections as well as preserved ones. The exhibit will form an historical narrative of the evolving living world and the human position within this ‘chart’. Special techniques will be devised, mainly by the use of hollow fibres to physically and conceptually ‘connect’ between the life in the vessel and therest of its surrounding specimens, to suggest alternative taxonomy whichaccommodates neo-life and sub-life. We also hope to be able to use sensors that will be able to provide with live feed information on the well being of the sub-life inside the vessel. This information will be then transferred to a dedicated web site. We believe NoArk has the potential to be exhibited in art galleries and other public spaces such as natural history museums around the world as well as the new locations of the Cabinets of Curiosities; science fairs, zoos, performance places etc.

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