In the year 2000 The SymbioticA Research Group (SARG) embarked on a project that intended to culturally scrutinise the possibility of embodying engineered neuro-assemblies. The idea that neurons cultured over electrodes can act in the world, and that the world would have a direct affect on the neurons, suggest that with increased complexity these engineered neuro-assemblies will require ethical consideration. This paper will describe the concept of the semi-living, in particular that which respond; Neuronal tissue can be cultured and grown independently from the context of the biological body and then engage in rudimentary two way information exchange with the world around it. Some of the main issues that this notion raise will be explored by following the trajectory of the neuroengineering related research at SymbioticA – from SARG’s Fish & Chips to Neurotica’s Silent Barrage.
- Oron Catts is Director of SymbioticA- The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia, and Visiting Professor of Design Interaction, Royal College of Arts, London, UK. Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project (which he founded in 1996 with Ionat Zurr) is part of the NY MoMA design collection and has been exhibited and presented internationally. In 2000 he co-founded SymbioticA, an artistic research laboratory housed within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Under Oron’s leadership, SymbioticA has gone on to win the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007) and became a Centre for Excellence in 2008. In 2009 Oron and Ionat were recognised by Thames & Hudson’s “60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future” book in the category “Beyond Design”, and by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the top 20 Designers, “making the future and transforming the way we work”. The latest show he curated was Visceral – the Living Art Experiment at the Science Gallery, Dublin, 2011. Oron has been a researcher at The University of Western Australia since 1996 and was a Research Fellow at the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston from 2000-2001. He worked with numerous other bio-medical laboratories around the world. In 2007 he was a visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University. Some of his past art projects include tissue engineered food and leather, in which the “steaks” and “jackets” were cultured in a laboratory setting to interrogate the possibility of victimless animal products; the Pig Wings Project, in which several pairs of wings made from pig bone marrow stem cells were grown, and Extra Ear-1/4 Scale, in which a miniature replica of Australian performance artist Stelarc’s left ear was grown using human cartilage cells.