You read the word DecellulArt and you probably wonder what on earth that is. This was my initial reaction too when I stumbled upon a brief introduction to decellularization few years ago.
Put simply, decellularization is the process of removing all cells from an organism’s tissue and being left with a white or transparent matrix where the cells were previously embedded. The method’s ability to reveal a hidden aesthetic in everyday objects that we wouldn’t get to witness otherwise is truly fascinating and I am currently engaged in experimentation of its limits and possibilities.
Of course In biomedical engineering decellularization is not practiced simply for the sake of admiring the extracellular matrix scaffolding (ECM). Through cell culture and a variety of additional methods that are too complex to explain here, a decellularized tissue is meant to be applied in tissue engineering for organ transplantations. It is a method which is still under development and yet to be perfected but one which can certainly make a real difference in the world.
There is especially one aspect in which I find tissue engineering to be a remarkable area of study and that is its potential to help with saving endangered species. Approximately 50 elephants are killed daily for nothing but their tusks and the ivory they offer. But what if we had the means to make real ivory objects and jewelry to satisfy the market without killing innocent creatures? We actually do. With apt knowledge in tissue engineering protocols and textile craft, designer Amy Congdon creates stunning ethically grown ivory jewelry, and leather made in the laboratory without animals involved.
Material science and engineering offer a whole new array of materials -some already perfected others still under development- and as a visual artist I cannot resist the urge of wanting to experiment with as many of them as possible. I really enjoy the surprising results of the decellularization process and exploring which dyeing techniques work best for each decellularized object.
This experimentation is driven by my interest in observing the possibilities that new materials hold for important environmental issues and how they can be eventually adopted by artists. It is also a good representation of my inability to remain simply a passive observer of events. Even if this remains nothing more than creative experimentation at the intersection of art and science, it is still a unique and valuable learning experience.
48hr SDS decell sample followed by a dye bath
Preparing sample for dye bath
48hr SDS decell embellished with gold leaf