Oron Catts
SymbioticA group
::: Biography

FRAGMENTS OF DESIGNED LIFE -
THE WET PALETTE OF TISSUE ENGINEERING

"...think of objects not as instruments for our use, but as entities that are effectively linked and that need care - to think of objects as plants in our garden…Think of objects that are beautiful and useful as trees in your own garden, objects that endure and have lives of their own, objects that perform services and, require care…I am thinking of criteria of quality that leads to a system of objects that have the variety, complexity, life and blend of beauty and utility of a garden but, at the same time, are a product of the real world, a world extensively and intensively artificial."
Ezio Manzini, "Prometheus of the Everyday", Design Issues, 1992.

The Emergence of the Semi-living
A new concept is emerging in the continuum of life, that of the Semi-Living. A new class of object/being constructed of living and non-living materials, A Semi-Living entity is a new autonomous entity located in the fuzzy border between the living/non-living, grown/constructed, born/manufactured, and object/subject. While the Semi-Living relay on the vet/mechanic, the farmer/artist or the nurturer/constructor to care for them, they are not human imitations and do not attempt to be human replacements. Rather they are a new class of object/being that is both similar and different from other human artefacts (Homo Sapience's extended phenotype) such as constructed objects and selective bred domestic plants and animals (both pets and husbandry). These entities consist of living biological systems that are artificially designed and need human and/or technological intervention in their construction and maintenance. The use of living tissues from complex organisms to create semi-living entities has already begun. This paper will discuss early examples of the semi-living, will raise (but not resolve) some of the conceptual issues that emerge when living biological systems are being manipulated by one species in the ecosystem, and will describe the process we employ to create our semi-living sculptures.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

Fragments of the collective known as the body can be sustained alive separately
The realization that cells from complex organisms can not only be sustained alive out side of the body, but also propagate came in 1910 when Dr. Alexis Carroll begun his experiments in a technique he termed "tissue culture." But it took more then eighty years to realize that cells can be grown in three dimensions to form a functional tissue. This development came form the collaborative work of a surgeon, Dr. Joseph Vacanti, and a material scientist, Dr. Robert Langar. They developed a system that use specially designed degradable polymers that act as a scaffold for the developing tissue. This work led to one of the most important icons of the late twentieth century - the mouse with the ear on it's back. This image was broadcasted and printed throughout the globe. It seemed to represent the horrors and the dreams of the new era of a bio-medical driven consumer society. For many it also indicated that the fantasy of the surrealist project is materialized through the aesthetics of scientists and medical professionals. Would this mouse look differently if a designer/artist were employed as part of the team? This ambiguous chimera - the eared mouse - confused many people, and one of the most common misunderstandings, propagate by the popular media, is that it was a product of genetic engineering. Not so! The ear was hand sculpt by the researchers out of degradable polymers, it was then seeded with human cartilage cells and inserted under the skin of a nude mouse. The mouse was used as a living bioreactor - providing the conditions needed for the cartilage cells to grow and gradually replace the polymer scaffold. The aim of this experiment was to prove that cartilage tissue could be coerced to grow into complex shapes and remain viable for the replacement of injured, defective or missing body parts. Developments in the design and construction of bioreactors opened up the possibilities of creating replacement body parts without the need to use mice as a surrogate body, and gave birth to the promise of the creation of semi-living tissue entities.




SymbioticA/TC&A. Pig Wings - The Pterosaurs Version, 2001-2002. Pig bone marrow stem cells grown over into biodegradable / bioabsorbable polymers in a shape of Pterosaurs's wings. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

As mentioned above, tissue engineering was developed as part of the bio-medical exploration of creating body spare parts, it represent a major conceptual shift in the treatment of many ailments, injuries and deformities. The body is now seen as a regenerative entity that can be healed using its own parts (cells, tissues), which are taken outside of it, treated, manipulated and re-implanted back into body. Tissue engineering also offered the opportunity of growing and sustaining functional tissue outside the body for long periods of time and create a from of life that could never exist in nature - parts of complex organisms designed and grown independently from the organism from which it originally derived. As oppose to genetically modified organisms, semi-living tissue entities represent a much smaller risk to the eco-system (they cannot escape and cannot survive without human intervention), but may present a greater challenge to the western concepts of self, body, life and death.

Existing Precursors to Semi-Living Entities
Ivy growing over a wall can be seen as a pre-cursor for a Semi-Living entity- an ivy-wall hybrid. The wall (constructed) and the ivy (living tissue) are combined together by the gardener (human intervention). Beyond its aesthetics the ivy/wall hybrid is also functional; it can be used as an insulator and as an air filter. Technology such as pruning, watering and fertilising is being used to sustain it in most cases. (The ivy may 'grow out' of our conceptual definition of the Semi-Living when unchecked. It can outgrow its purpose, as perceived by humans, and become a weed). The idea of using plant's living tissues as a malleable material for human centric purposes is widely used and mostly accepted. The most common example is the decapitated plants' sexual organs - flowers, arranged inside a vase. In his insightful paper Kitsch Ornamental Plants (1997) George Gessert, an artist who breeds plants against the commercial grain, speculates that plants are not sentient and therefore 'plant breeders have expressive freedoms inappropriate to animal breeders' (p.45). "...plants are our kin. We cannot converse with them, but we can interact in infinitely various ways, and we effect their evolution they become our mirrors...reflect our thoughts and dreams, and shape us in turn" (p.51). Gessert looks at plants as living materials through and with which we can express our curiosity wonder and love. Perceptions, ideologies and values radically change as we move closer, in the scale of the life continuum, to our own species.

Semi-Living Sculptures
We sometimes refer to our tissue culture art practice as advanced gardening. The Tissue Culture & Art Project (initiated in 1996) is an on going research and development project into the use of tissue technologies to create Semi-Living sculptures. We are using constructed biodegradable/bio-absorbable polymers in the desired shape, and seeding them with living cells from complex organisms. 'In essence, new and functional living tissue is fabricated using living cells, which are usually associated in one way or another with a matrix or scaffolding to guide tissue development' (Langar and Vacanti 1997). At this stage, our Semi-Living sculptures must be kept, immersed with nutrient media, in sterile conditions in incubators. We see our Semi-Living sculptures as evocative objects. These Semi-Living entities need care to survive. When presenting them alive in galleries we have to construct a tissue culture laboratory in which we can feed them on a daily basis. In our recent exhibition we performed the 'Ritual of Killing' at the end of the exhibition (or more correctly by the end of the living component of the exhibition). In this ritual we asked the audience to touch (and be touched by) the Semi-Living entities. Human touch, obviously, kills them as they are being infected by bacteria and fungi which lives in the environment and on humans. The touching/killing rituals are our ironic way to coerce people to face the problematic existence of Semi-Living entities. These evocative entities expose the gap created between our new knowledge and abilities to manipulate living systems, to our belief and value systems which are not equipped to deal with the epistemological, ethical and psychological implications raised by the emergence of the Semi-Living. Semi-Living entities expose our hypocrisies in regard to the living world and to the use of living systems for human centric purposes.

The Process of Growing Semi-Living Sculptures
The process of creating a tissue-engineered sculpture starts with obtaining the desired cells or tissue. There are two sources for tissue and cells: cell lines and primary tissue. Cell lines are either cancerous cells, or cells that have been transformed by viruses that ultimately causes the cells to grow indefinitely in culture. Cell lines can be ordered from cell and tissue banks around the world. Primary cells are explanted directly from a donor organism. They have a finite number of divisions in culture and given the right conditions can survive for some time. Cells and tissues are harvested from the animal either by means of biopsy from a living animal or by dissection of a freshly killed animal. Cells are then isolated by mechanical and chemical means. All the primary tissues we obtain are left over from either meat production or scientific research. We consider ourselves scavengers. Once we obtain the cells or tissue, we either seed them directly onto 3D scaffolds or proliferate them in tissue flasks until we have enough to use. We use different methods of seeding the cells over and/or into the scaffolds depending on the kind of cells and the makeup of the scaffold. The seeding techniques can be either dynamic or static. Dynamic seeding usually involves flow or movement that assists the cells to get deep into the scaffold and attach to it. Static seeding entails combining the cells/tissue with the constructs in stationary conditions: we either drip the cell-media solution over the scaffold or inject the solution directly into it. When we deal with large bits of tissue we usually fix them to the scaffold in a mechanical way and let the cells migrate to the rest of the scaffold. All this work is done in sterile conditions inside a biological safety hood.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

The semi-living sculptures that have resulted from combining cells and tissue with 3D scaffolds/constructs have been grown and sustained alive in bioreactors - devices used for growing and sustaining living cells and tissues outside of their natural environment. This task is achieved by emulating the conditions in the bodies from which the cells and tissue have been derived. The most basic requirements for a bioreactor are the supply of nutrients and other biological agents, the removal of waste and the constant maintenance of homeostasis (including temperature, pH levels, dissolved gas levels), while keeping the content of the bioreactor sterile (free of microbial contamination). In their application to tissue engineering, bioreactors should also be designed to enhance the attachment of cells to the scaffolds/substrate, to support 3D formation of tissue (e.g. micro-gravity conditions), to control the release of biological agents (such as growth factors and inhibitors), to apply controllable stress on specific tissue types (e.g. pulsatile flow for the formation of blood vessels (Nickolson, Abbott, Hirschi, Houser, Marini and Langar, 1999 pp.489-493) directional stress for the alignment of muscle fibers and to enable the operator to change settings (Freed and Vunjak-Novakovic, 1997 pp.143-154).


SymbioticA/TC&A. Pig Wings. Part of Adelaide Biennale of Australian Arts, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2002. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

The main barrier to achieving a large-scale tissue-engineered sculpture is the lack of an internal plumbing system (blood vessels and capillaries) to deliver nutrients and other agents and to remove harmful waste. Diffusion alone cannot sustain thick formations of tissue. We share this problem with tissue engineers who are trying to produce complex organs for eventual transplantation. The Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, U.S.A. (where we were research fellows in 2000-2001) is exploring ways to overcome this problem using techniques borrowed from silicon-chip manufacture and exploring the use of high-resolution 3D printing to create a scaffold or a mould as a template for a bio-artificial capillary system. An artificial capillary system would enable us to grow sculptures of a size that would allow the viewer more direct interaction. The development of a capillary system would also facilitate the creation of a living barrier - a skin - to protect the sculptures from harmful agents in the environment. This would enable us to take our sculptures out of containment and provide an element of tactile interaction.
Another area that we are researching is the use of muscle tissue to provide movement to the sculptures. Satellite skeletal muscle cells (myoblasts), sometimes referred to as progenitor muscle cells, are isolated, cultured and proliferated until a sufficient amount of cells can be attached to the scaffold. Then, modifications in the growth media will transform the cells into multi-nuclei myotubes (muscle fibres), which will start to twitch randomly. We have reached this stage and are now looking at using electrical pulses to harmonize these twitching muscle fibres. Again, in order to achieve visible movement, a capillary system would have to be in place to meet the high demand for energy through nutrients and oxygen.
Until we can use a capillary system, which still seems to be years away, we are interested in developing a bioreactor for long-term installations. In the context of our project, the bioreactor should be treated as an art object and not a mere tool. Conceptually a bioreactor (in conjunction with the semi-living sculptures growing inside it) represents an artificial "life-giving" and maintaining force.




SymbioticA/TC&A. Pig Wings. Part of Adelaide Biennale of Australian Arts, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2002. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Technology Imitates Life
AIBO dog, a Smart Toy produced by SONY, does not consist of any living materials, but it produces an illusion of life. It is an electronic machine embedded with artificial intelligence. AIBO can be your companion pet as well as your guard dog. Besides, AIBO cannot die and if it breaks, it can be reassembled. AIBO dog is designed to look and behave as if it is alive and even semi-sentient. Sherry Turkle (1984) suggests that computers or smart toys are evocative objects, which ignite human perceptions. The psychological relationship that children form with smart toys, says Turkle, forces them to engage with fundamental questions regarding what is alive and what is life. Semi-Living objects that contain living elements evoke epistemological and psychological questions about life from a different perspective - that of life in its physical sense. Evocative Semi-Living objects raise questions such as how much, and what kind of, living material is needed in order to make an object alive and/or sentient? Is plant tissue less sentient than a tissue from a more complex organism? Is there a difference between epidermal tissue or a muscle tissue, which has the ability to twitch in real time in vitro, or nerve cells that are commonly believed to aid in forming the notion of self? Is an AIBO dog covered with living fur more alive? What about an AIBO dog embedded with rat neurons over its circuit board?




SymbioticA/TC&A. Pig Wings. Part of Adelaide Biennale of Australian Arts, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2002. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Living Components for Computational Tasks
Biological computing, the integration of neurons and electronics is still in its embryonic stages, but its future implications are infinite. It is speculated that a Semi-Living 'thinking' computer can solve problems by intuition and creativity.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: bulatov@ncca.koenig.ru (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): http://www.yantskaz.ru. Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

In our society, mistreatment of organisms equipped with a central nervous system is considered to be cruel, while the same treatment to an organism that does not have a central nervous system will not raise any concerns. Furthermore, we new believe that the concept of self and consciousness reside in the neurons. What happens when we take the neurons out of the organism, culture them and obtain their responses to stimulation we provide? How many neurons do we have to culture in order to create a conscious sentient semi-living being?






SymbioticA/TC&A. MEART - The semi living artist. Part of Ars Electronica festival, Linz, 2001. Embryonic rat neurons (wetware), cultured over multi electrode array, interfacing to a drawing arm (hardware), via TCP/IP (software) to create two dimensional drawings. All images courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

Conclusion
This emergence of new class of object/being, which is positioned in the fault line of our psychological dichotomies in regard to the life continuum, might become more and more visible as our abilities to manipulate life increases. As these creations will contain different gradients of life and sentiency new relationships will be formed with our objects, our environment and with the concept of life itself. Parts of our own bodies can be sustained apart from us as independent autonomous entities (currently only small fragments). What kind of relationships are we going to form with these entities? Will we care for them or abuse them? Where are Semi-Living objects going to be positioned in the continuum of life and how will this effect our value systems in regard to living systems including our own bodies (both healthy and sick) and our concept of self?
Our Semi-Livings consist of constructed elements and living parts of one or more organs assembled and sustained by us. These entities we create might become our "naturalish" companions, our machines and even our buildings as suggested by Krueger (1999) 'Through the use of scaffolds, biologically-based components may be configured to architectural requirements." (p.234)
Modern biology enables humans to further objectify living systems and to create Semi-Living beings. As wet biology art practitioners who use tissue technologies to create Semi-Living Sculptures, we are acutely aware that the Semi-Livings we create are depended on our care for their survival and well-being. We try to formulate the broader questions in regard to the extent to which we can morally manipulate and exploit living biological systems for human centric activities. Will the emergence of the Semi-Livings make our society a more caring one or will life be objectified even further?

Bibliography:
Freed, L.E. and Vunjak-Novakovic, G. "Tissue Engineering Bioreactors," in: Lanza, R.P., Langar, R., and Vacanti, J. Principles of Tissue Engineering (2nd Ed., San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1997), pp.143-154.
Gessert, G. "Kitsch Ornamental Plants," in Design Issues Vol. XIII, No.13, Autumn 1997, pp.45-51.
Krueger, T. "Heterotic Architecture," in: Reframing Consciousness: art, mind and technology (R.Ascott ed., Intellect Books UK 1999), pp.232-236.
Lanza, R.P., Langar, R., and Vacanti, J. Principles of Tissue Engineering (2nd Ed., San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1997), p.4.
Manzini, E. "Prometheus of the Everyday: The Ecology of the Artificial and the Designer's Responsibility," in Design Issues Vol. IX, No.1, Fall 1992, pp.5-20.
Nickolson, L.E., Gao, J., Abbott, W.M., Hirschi, K.K., Houser, S., Marini, R., and Langar, R. "Functional Arteries Grown in Vitro," in Science 284 (1999), pp.489-493.
Potter Steve in Mind over Metal by Anil Ananthaswamy, New Scientist: No. 2331, 23 February 2002, pp.27-29.
Sherry, T. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Simon & Schuster 1984), p.3.
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_358000/358822.stm>





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COLOPHON

CONTENTS:

I. LABORATORY: science and technology

Svetlana Borinskaya. Genomics and Biotechnology: Science at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.

Mikhail Gelfand. Computational Genomics: from the Wet Lab to Computer and Back.

Irina Grigorjan, Vsevolod Makeev. Biochips and Industrial Biology.

Valery Shumakov, Alexander Tonevitsky. Xenotransplantation as a Scientific and Ethic Problem.

Abraham Iojrish. Legal Aspects of Gene Engineering.

Pavel Tishchenko. Genomics: New Science in the New Cultural Situation.
II. FORUM: society and genomic culture

Eugene Thacker. Darwin's Waiting Room.

Critical Art Ensemble. The Promissory Rhetoric of Biotechnology in the Public Sphere.

SubRosa. Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century.

Ricardo Dominguez. Nano-Fest Destiny 3.0: Fragments from the Post-Biotech Era.

Birgit Richard. Clones and Doppelgangers. Multiplications and Reproductions of the Self in Film.

Sven Druehl. Chimaera Phylogeny: From Antiquity to the Present.
III. TOPOLOGY: from biopolitics to bioaesthetics

Boris Groys. Art in the Age of Biopolitics.

Stephen Wilson. Art and Science as Cultural Acts.

Melentie Pandilovski. On the Phenomenology of Consciousness, Technology, and Genetic Culture.

Roy Ascott. Interactive Art: Doorway to the Post-Biological Culture.
IV. INTERACTION CODE: artificial life

Mark Bedau. Artificial Life Illuminates Human Hyper-creativity.

Louis Bec. Artificial Life under Tension.

Alan Dorin. Virtual Animals in Virtual Environments.

Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau. The Application of Artificial Life to Interactive Computer Installations.
V. MODERN THEATRE: ars genetica

George Gessert. A History of Art Involving DNA.

Kathleen Rogers. The Imagination of Matter.

Brandon Ballengee. The Origins of Artificial Selection.

Marta de Menezes. The Laboratory as an Art Studio.

Adam Zaretsky. Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz.
VI. IMAGE TECHNOLOGY: ars chimaera

Joe Davis. Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes.

David Kremers. The Delbruck Paradox. Version 3.0.

Eduardo Kac. GFP Bunny.

Dmitry Bulatov. Ars Chimaera.

Valery Podoroga. Rene Descartes and Ars Chimaera.
VII. METABOLA: tissue culture and art

Ionat Zurr. Complicating Notions of Life - Semi-Living Entities.

Oron Catts. Fragments of Designed Life - the Wet Palette of Tissue Engineering.
VIII. P.S.

Dmitry Prigov. Speaking of Unutterable.

Wet art gallery

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