Warehouse D
Art In The Laboratory
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Genetic Art/Engineers Create Pigs' Wings


We couldn't ignore this story. We are sure Lewis Carroll portrayed the image of flying pigs as a narcotic induced fantasy or perhaps a joke of pure fiction when he penned the lyrics for The Walrus And The Carpenter.


Carroll would, no doubt, have a real chuckle if he knew that two young genetic "artists" were crossing genes and experimenting with making pigs' wings.


The work by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, at the University of Western Australia, was part of a project called Tissue Culture and Art.


They say they looked at the statement "pigs could fly" as "typical of the kind of unrealistic biotech type stuff being said and decided to literally grow pigs wings both as a critique and to explore the patent absurdity of it."


The project "represents our response as artists to the near future which contains semi-living entities objects that are partly alive and partly constructed. They raise huge ethical and epistemological questions which people haven't begun to think about."


It took some scientific ingenuity to pull it off. The two artists said they harvested pig bone marrow stem cells from other scientific experimenting and then grew them in two-dimensional layers for about four months.


At that point, the growing objects were wrapped around biopolymer constructs or grown in tissue flasks to create "cell suspensions that were seeded onto constructs in a microgravity bioreactor" so they were now growing in three dimensional form.


"Once we had the semi-living tissue wings, we fixed them with formalin, then dried and coated them with gold to preserve them."


Thus instant death for living cellular structured wings.


That the act of gold plating kills the tissue is described as "one of the many ambiguities" of the project say Catts and Zurr. "We are showing both live and dead pig wings in galleries."


Using a technique learned from artist Adam Zaretsky, who experimented at Harvard with vibrations in music to stimulate the growth of cells, the team said they played "pig songs" to the cells while they were in the bioreactor to help them grow.


During the experiment, three different shapes of wings were produced. They ranged from angelic or bird type, to vampire or bat wings and those of the ancient pterosaurs. "We added the cultural colors that go with them; blue for angelic, red for evil and green for the dinosaurs."


How was the project received? The team said some people were interested, while others were both insulted and repulsed. The general public seemed to feel "challenged by the discrepancy between our cultural view of what life is, and by what we can now do with bioengineering."