Futuristic installation marks the crossroads of technology and fine art.
19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh is well known for his post-impressionist works, multiple self-portraits, and also for his strangely detached ear. Some accounts hold that he cut off his ear in a psychotic rampage. Others say that its removal was the unfortunate result of an argument with his friend. Whichever the case, the story’s mystique has inspired German artist Diemut Strebe and a team of scientists to grow a 3D-printed ear at the ZKM | Media Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.
The exhibit, called Sugababe, is a 3D-printed replica of Van Gogh’s Ear, created from the genetic material of Lieuwe van Gogh, his brother’s great-great-grandson. The two van Goghs share about 1/16 of the same genes, which makes Lieuwe’s cells a close representation of those of the famous painter. A 3D bio-printer and computer software were used to print the cells, which were then grown into the full ear at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Preserved in a nourishing liquid, the ear will be able to live for years to come.
The ZKM | Media Museum also claims that the ear can hear:
“You can talk to the ear. The input sound is processed by a computer using software that converts it to simulate nerve impulses in real time. The speaker remains in soliloquy. The crackling sound that is produced is used to outline absence instead of presence.”
Strebe’s integration of science and art into such a unique piece is in a league of its own. The artist compares herself to the painter himself:
“I use science basically like a type of brush, like Vincent used paint.”
While the 3D-printed ear adds a new dimension to artistic design, its future health applications are also evident. 3D bio-printing technology is being used by scientists to produce synthetic blood vessels which may be compiled to produce larger organs to be used as implants and replacements. If applied back to bio-art, the possibility arises of more advanced and interactive creations making their way to museums worldwide.
The printed ear will be on display at the German museum until July 6th and is set to make its way to New York City by next year.