Artists Grow Brain
From Foreskin Cells

May 13, 2013 | Marina Galperina

This… is “dickhead.” Quite literally.

In potēntia is a recent, ethically-challenging project from researcher/artist Guy Ben-Ary and academic/artist Dr. Kirsten Hudson. The artists purchased human foreskin cells online and reverse-engineered them back into their embryonic state, then genetically manipulated those stem cells to grow into a neural network, a “brain.” Or, you know, force-chopped off flesh from living human children and mutated it, muhahaw. It all depends on your ethical stand-point.

The brain/organic art is incased in a incubator/sculpture. It gets fed. It gets its “waste” removed. There’s a special electrophysiological recording set-up in there: That quivering blob of human matter makes sound art.

So many questions! What is a person? Is this project actually unethical or are the opponents of artistic stem cell appropriation just wallowing in “fetishization of consciousness?” Do brains shit?!!!

In potēntia by Guy Ben-Ary and Kirsten Hudson, is a liminal, boundary creature of animate and inanimate matter that visually problematises the shifting cultural, ethical and political forces that govern and determine understandings of life, death and personhood. Informed by the aesthetics of steam punk, retro-futurism and eighteenth century scientific paraphernalia, in potēntia is a speculative techno-scientific experiment that uses a stem cell reprogramming technique called induced pluripotent stem cell technology (iPS) to reverse engineer foreskin cells purchased from an online catalogue into embryonic (like) stem cells, which Ben-Ary and Hudson then transform into neurons. What results is a real functioning neural network or “biological brain” encased within a purpose built sculptural incubator, containing a DIY bio-reactor (or life-support system) as well as a custom-made electrophysiological recording setup that converts neural activity into an unsettling soundscape.

There’s a new “project dickhead” interview at We Make Money Not Art and it’s fascinating.