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<nettime> Vincent Van Gogh's Ear re-engineered
nettime's avid listener on Thu, 12 Nov 2015 13:26:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Vincent Van Gogh's Ear re-engineered

This Ear Was Made With Vincent Van Gogh's DNA

What secrets have been whispered into this creepy, living copy of the
most famous ear in art history?

By Erin Blakemore
November 10, 2015


Vincent van Gogh's ear is nearly as famous as his jaw-dropping Starry
Night. Though its final resting place may never be foundâas the legend
goes, he severed off part of his ear and then gave it to a
prostituteâmuseumgoers in New York can get a look at the next best
thing. ArtNet's Sarah Cascone reports that a living replica of van
Gogh's ear, created using the artist's DNA, is now on display at
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York City.

The ear is the gruesome brainchild of Diemut Strebe, a conceptual
artist who partnered with scientists from MIT and other universities
to create a copy of van Gogh's ear. Using DNA extracted from a stamp
licked by the artist, as well as cell samples collected from van
Gogh's great-great-grandnephew, Strebe and team created "Sugababe," an
artificially grown ear suspended in a clear gel.

Visitors don't have to merely look at the earâthey can talk into it,
too. On her website, Strebe writes that "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." Noam Chomsky was the first person to speak into
the ear after it debuted in Germany last year.

In a 2014 story about the bizarre art project, Cascone writes that the
ear is "just one of a limited edition." Neither van Gogh's relatives
nor the Dutch museum that bears his name want copies of their own.

If "Sugababe" is a slightly macabre commentary on fame and art, it's
also a tribute to a world-famous artistic body part. It's not certain
what actually happened to van Gogh's ear: though he supposedly gave it
to a prostitute during a mental breakdown, recent scholarship suggests
that it was actually cut off by Paul Gauguin during an argument
between the two artists.

Perhaps van Gogh could have benefitted from 21st-century ear
replication technology. Still, there's no telling what the painterâwho
once proclaimed that the idea of exhibiting his work left him
"absolutely cold"âwould make of artwork inspired by one of his darkest



Sugababe | 2014, ongoing project

In Sugababe, we have regrown Vincent van Gogh's ear.

Vincent van Gogh probably represents more than any other artist, the
stereotypical romantic image of the artist as a genius. He fulfills
the sentimental projections of a broad public about the artist being
necessarily poor, sick or insane as a type of inevitable precondition
for a true and authentic work. But even the more reputable positions
in theory of art tend to a certain mystification and to predictable
patterns in dealing with the exceptional position of artistic
creativity compared to any other form of human innovations. Art
according to this position simply 'appears', becomes apparent and is
not to be declared or explicable.

The ear is grown from tissue engineered cartilage and is "identical"
in shape to van Gogh's ear by using computer imaging technology. It is
composed of living cells that contain natural genetic information
about him as well as engineered components, replicating in the ear as
a "living art-piece". The philosophical Theseus' paradox forms the
literary basis of the scientific approaches used in this art-project,
that is the replacement of the genetic code at the molecular level,
the cellular organization at the microscopic level and the composition
of tissues and organs at the anatomic level.In the late 1st century
Plutarch asked in The Life of Theseus whether a ship, which was
restored by replacing all its parts, remained the same ship. In the
course of time many variations of the principle have been described.
One of these variations refers to the title of the project. The famous
paradox is carried out with biological material making a particular
form of human replication, from historical or synthesized material, a
central focus of this project. The ear is one of a series of a limited
edition, made of different scientific components referring in various
ways to the same principle of replacement.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. They mimic sounds recorded
from an electrode inserted into the auditory nerve.The crackling that
one can hear represents nerve impulses fired by the auditory nerve,
here used to outline absence instead of presence. The speaker remains
in soliloquy.

Scientific description

Foreign DNA has the ability to replicate in living cells if it is
incorporated properly, and if such DNA can be expressed as RNA and its
encoded proteins in that species.Replacement of new DNA that is
present in living cells with segments of old DNA or synthesized
segments of historic DNA can be used to recreate segments of DNA from
a historical person that can be incorporated into living cells. By
replacement of an entire genome a historical person could in theory be
genetically "recreated" by inserting his or her DNA into the cell line
of another human. The art-project works with this concept of
replacement in various ways. The Custodia foundation in Paris provided
an envelope Vincent van Gogh used in 1883. On the 3rd of September,
2012, samples of biological material were taken at Centre
Universitaire Romand de MÃdecine LÃgale, Lausanne, from the stamp and
the flap of an envelope. DNA was extracted, a small part of the
mitochondrial DNA was sequenced, cloned in vitro and incorporated into
living cartilage cells which had been acquired from Lieuwe van Gogh, a
4th generation descendant of Vincent van Gogh. As a male descendant in
an uninterrupted male line he shares the Y chromosome with Vincent van
Gogh and 1/16th of his genome. The mtDNA that was found on the
original envelope does not match the van Gogh maternal linage.
However, for the principal of replacement it does not matter whether
the historical material stems from Vincent van Gogh or anyone else. At
this time, only sequenceable historical nuclear DNA, typically derived
from bone marrow or teeth, has the ability to replicate and to
function within the genome of a living cell line. Consequently, the
historical mtDNA from the van Gogh-envelope was used in both a
symbolic and to a certain degree conceptual manner. The segments of
historic mtDNA were introduced into the nucleus of the cells to grow
the ear, attached to entirely synthetic segments of DNA, that produce
a foreign fluorescent protein. According to the chronological
development of this project in the starting format shown at ZKM |
Karlsruhe, the historical mtDNA from the van Gogh-envelope was used
and attached to additional DNA, consisting of a vector and a reporter
gene, which was then inserted into the nucleus of the cells. It
multiplies and replicates as the cell multiplies. In the course of the
progression of the edition of produced ears, the described concept of
replacement is carried out by using other historical sources of
nuclear DNA for the replacement of chromosomes or the replacement of
an entire cell nucleus by using nuclear transfer for cloning to
reflect the principle, as well as from scratch generated synthetic DNA
rather than purely biological samples. The ear-project is a series of
a limited edition. It is made of different scientific components, that
refer to the same principle of replacement. The art piece is presented
in different states of its life.

(Text: summary version)

Diemut Strebe

Robert Langer, MIT, Charles Vacanti, Harvard, Ian Wilmut, MRC,
Edinburgh, Vincent Castella/Christian Gehrig, University Center of
Legal Medicine, Lausanne-Geneva, Jef Boeke, New York University
Langone Medical Center, George Church (-2012), Harvard, Tessa Hadlock,
Mass Eye and Ear, Joseph Vacanti, Harvard, Peter Cariani, Boston
University, Bertrand Delgutte, Harvard, Mass Eye and Ear


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