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Living, Hearing Copy of van Gogh's Ear Goes on Display

Lend your ear to this tale of art, history, and science.
Diemut Strebe, Sugababe, 2014. Images courtesy the artist

Want to see a living piece of art history? A bioengineered replica of Vincent van Gogh's severed ear will be on display at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York starting November 7th.

Dutch artist Diemut Strebe has been keeping the ear alive in a nutrient solution since she used science and the DNA of van Gogh's ancestor, Lieuwe van Gogh, to 3D print the ear for a project called Sugababe last year. Lieuwe, the great-great-grandson of Vincent's brother Theo, shares around 1/16th of the the Impressionist master's genetic material, including the Y-chromosome passed down through the male lineage. Apparently this is enough to make a facsimile of the ear that heard van Gough paint Vase with Twelve Sunflowers—though it wouldn't have heard the creation of Starry Night, which was painted post-clipping.


Oh, and as with Sugababe's debut installation at The Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, the ear can hear you: "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," reads Strebe's website. "They mimic sounds recorded from an electrode inserted into the auditory nerve, when firing." So it effectively can hear, but the real question is, can it listen?

Sugababe is part of a show called Free Radicals that includes nine more of Strebe's projects that push the boundaries of art and biology. A scent installation called Social Sculpture: The Scent of Joseph Beuys emits scents based on the work of the titual performance artist. Jacob Climbed up the Sky is a one-atom-thick drawing of a ladder made from graphene, which reference's Jacob's Ladder in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Yeast Expression looks like a normal six-pack of beers, until you find out iconic texts like The Seven Deadly Sins or Kant’s What can I know? What ought I do? What may I hope? were mapped onto the yeast's genes. Beaks is a photo series of chicken embryos whose mandibles have been modified to look like those of other birds.

The surplus of artistic, literary, and scientific ideas overwhelms each cell in your body with the possibilities—and danger—bioengineering presents. It's clean, foreboding fun.


Free Radicals, will be on display at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts from November 7 - December 5, 2015. See more of Diemut Strebe's work on her website.


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