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Sugababe | 2014, ongoing project

Living genetically engineered chondrocytes seeded on scaffold, plasma, acrylic containers , pumpsystem , microphone , speakers
earchamber: 12.2 x 12 x 7 cm
reservoir: 8 x 25 x 25 cm
pedestal: 122 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm
Exhibition view ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, 30.05.-06.07.2014

Sugababe is a living replica of Vincent van Gogh's ear, grown from tissue engineered cartilage.
It is composed of living immortalized van Gogh cells from a male descendant, containing natural genetic information about Vincent as well as genetically engineered components amongst using genome editing CRISPR-Cas9 technique, and mRNA technology.
An "artist gene" and the belonging enzymes have been genetically modified and inserted into Lieuwe van Gogh's genome.
Vincent's artistic genius might have resided in his ear, as Samson's strength in his hair.
The project focuses on a particular form of human replication using replacement and modification of natural DNA with synthesized genetic material in a living cell line.
In this case we replaced Lieuwe van Gogh's mtDNA with the mtDNA of the female descendant from Vincent's mother which is identical to Vincent's. By merging the DNA components present in living descendants we recreate a significant part of Vincent's genome.

The Theseus paradox from Plutarch forms the literary basis for the scientific approaches using the principle of replacement on the molecular, the microscopic and the anatomic level using different scientific tools. In principle the process of recreation of a historical person or of extinct species is initiated by applying the Theseus paradox to the molecular level.

Through the interaction with science the focus of the project is the cliché of the stereotypic romantic image of the artist as a genius, his deterministic fate, as well as certain patterns about art as described in art theory. No other artist represents these type of superimposed projections as Vincent van Gogh. The simple, banal step to regrow the ear can be seen as an act of demystification.

One can speak to the ear through a microphone system. The input sound is connected to a computer processor, using a software program to generate simulated nerve impulses from the sound signal in real time. They mimic sounds recorded from an electrode inserted into the auditory nerve, when firing.

During the opening on 30 May 2014 at ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany, Noam Chomsky was the first person to speak to the ear.

Concept: Diemut Strebe

Scientists: Robert Langer, MIT, C.and J.Vacanti, Harvard, Ian Wilmut, MRC Edinburgh, Vincent Castella/Christian Gehrig, University Center of Legal Medicine, Lausanne-Geneva, Harvard, Tessa Hadlock, Mass Eye and Ear, Peter Cariani, Boston University, Bertrand Delgutte, Harvard, Mass Eye and Ear, Yulia Rybakova, MIT, Jason Lu, MIT, Mary Goldring

With special thanks to Lieuwe van Gogh, Rosine Weenink, Noam Chomsky, Ger Luijten, Custodia Paris, Courtagen Life Sciences, VERITAS.


Selected Press