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Artist creates a 3D printed living replica of van Gogh’s severed ear

There has always been a very distinct line drawn between science and art.  The left-brain and the right, linearly depicted, and figuratively drilled into our perceptions of ourselves, and the world.

Up until this point, in our surprisingly extensive scientific and artistic histories, the two haven’t really come together. At least not as elegantly or innately intertwined as the work conceptualized and realised by artist Diemut Strebe.

Recently Strebe set out to create a physical ode to one of Holland’s greatest artists, Vincent van Gogh. Physical, in the sense that Strebe has essentially, and biologically, created a replica of van Gogh’s severed ear. Yes, you read right, recreated his famed amputated auricle. And yes, it is art.

Strebe used DNA extrapolated from van Gogh’s brother’s great-great grandson to grow cells that resemble those of the influential artist. A 3D-printer was then used to reconstruct the shape of the ear with the living cells. The result is a living, theoretically hearing, ear.

According to Strebe she “use [s] science basically like a type of brush, like Vincent used paint.”

Currently van Gogh’s separated auditory faculty is residing at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. The ear is being housed in a display filled with a nourishing liquid that could theoretically sustain the living year for years to come.

van gogh

Although the science behind the project is intriguing, the art and meaning behind is potentially even more captivating. Most are familiar with the story of van Gogh, a brilliant, yet tortured artist who cut of his own ear during a psychotic episode.

The physical manifestation of the ear, along with the DNA embedded in it, has the potential deliver commentary on societal perceptions of art and artists themselves. In a way it is a part of van Gogh, yet in another it is the farthest thing from him. What do you think? How does science add to art?

Author | Marguerite Heyns

Marguerite Heyns
Marguerite is a Canadian/South African Biologist with an astonishingly diverse set of interests. During a brief stint working with a grassroots level organisation in Bangladesh, she fell in love with social media and its ability to ignite social change. As a long term interweb addict and narrative nerd, Marguerite... More

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