Tissue Culture and Art Project (Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr)

Semi-living Worry Dolls

The Semi-Living Worry Dolls are tissue-engineered sculptures cultured live under micro-gravitational conditions in an “artificial womb” – a bioreactor that acts as a surrogate body. They are grown from McCoy cells over hand-crafted degradable polymers and stitched together with surgical sutures. The polymers degrade as the tissue grows and the Worry Dolls become “partially alive.” They represent modern versions of the legendary Guatemalan worry dolls: at bedtime children are told to take one doll for each worry and to share their worry with that doll – overnight, the dolls will solve their problems. The Semi-Living Worry Dolls thematize the anxieties brought about by corporate biotechnology and eugenics. This work invites viewers to whisper their worries to the dolls-in-growth – will they take your troubles away?

The genderless figures represent the current stage of cultural limbo: a stage characterized by childlike innocence and a mixture of wonder and fear of technology. But in light of the current trend toward synthetic biology, the dolls also address the fascination with the precarious border between life and non-life, as well as with its artificial synthesis. The artists investigate our relationships with the different gradients of life through the construction/growth of a new class of object/being – that of the semi-living. From an historical perspective, the Semi-Living Worry Dolls can be seen as a contemporary, symbolic incarnation of the Homunculus in alchemist tradition, based on the idea that “living beings” could be constructed out of organic raw material and that the microscopic “building blocks” already contain the structures of a fully-formed being. Culturally related myths and narratives such as the Golem, Pygmalion, Faust or Frankenstein, which act as a warning against human fantasies of technological omnipotence, also resonate in Semi-Living Worry Dolls.

The Tissue Culture & Art Project (Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr) is an artists’ group hosted by and closely involved in SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts at the University of Western Australia. Since 1996, the group has explored the use of tissue technologies as a medium for artistic expression and has specialized in cell-and-tissue-cultured miniature sculptures described as “semi-living”.

photo credit: The Tissue Culture & Art (Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr)

© Synth-ethic: Art and Synthetic Biology Exhibition 2020.

14.05 - 26.06.2011 in the Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria. Produced by Biofaction KG

Vienna, Austria