The Vision Splendid by Alicia King, exhibited as part of VISCERAL - 10 years of SymbioticA, at Science Gallery, Dublin 2011. Curated by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr.
The Vision Splendid explores biotech processes and the physical, ethical and ritual body, through the augmentation of human tissue in sculptural form.
Cells and tissue are presented ‘living’ in the purpose-built glass bioreactor, designed in collaboration with Matt Johnson (USA) - a portable, low-tech, low cost artificial body, used to support the life and growth of living mammal cells and tissue – including the artists own.
In this incarnation, the living tissue growing in the glass bioreactor originates from an anonymous female. Her cells were purchased through the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) online catalogue of over 4,000 human, animal, and plant cell lines for order. Listed are the cell type and characteristics, donor age, ethnicity, and date of sample. These are Hs 53.T Fibroblast cells, isolated from the skin sample of a 13 year old African-American female on January 31 1969.
Trawling through the thousands of products in the ATCC catalogue for these cells drew to mind searching through online obituary notices, though depersonalised to the point of their pathology alone – so completely devoid of subjectivity.
In The Vision Splendid these cells and tissue, estranged from the donor’s body, present here re-embodied within a form of mobile contemporary living reliquary, much like the first reliquaries which toured between towns like travelling sideshow ‘miracles’.
Though, unlike traditional relics, this contemporary use of tissue outside the body re-commodifies and de-subjectifies, further eliminating all traces of the individual from whom it came, in a self-reflexive metaphor of its own cultural status.
In response, the living tissue sculpture takes the form of fangs - referencing the use of human material in biomedicine, poignantly described by Scheper-Huges as a ‘new form of late modern cannibalism’* in which the individual’s need for tissue (flesh and blood) consumption is broadened to a society’s commodification of the flesh and blood of its common population to pursue economic and physical immortality.
This cannibalistic attitude towards the body is expressed through the active tissue economy in which the body has become an amalgamation of raw material for commodification and production, laying dormant in mausoleum-like biological tissue banks such as ATCC, awaiting to be re-animated into a ‘living’ state.
(This project was researched and developed at SymbioticA: the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia.
The bioreactor was developed as part of an ongoing research project of the SymbioticA Research Group (SARG). This version is a collaboration between SARG, Alicia King and Matt Johnson.)
* Scheper-Hughes 2002. in Waldby, C; Mitchell, R 2006, Tissue Economies; Blood Organs and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, London. p9.