Lend Me Your Ears

3D Bioprinting the Lost Ear of Vincent van Gogh

vincent van gogh

Using 3D bioprinting and a DNA sample from 1888, an artist recreated the lost ear of Vincent van Gogh. And when you talk, the ear listens.

Vincent van Gogh cut off his own ear in in 1888 during a psychotic episode. Since then, the missing appendage has become almost as significant as his art. It represents the tortured genius behind the beautiful paintings.

So while 3D printing yet another copy of The Starry Night sounds cheesy and lame, 3D bioprinting his ear is a totally novel idea. Plus… it’s alive.

Boston-based artist Diemut Strebe recreated the world’s most famous ear by 3D printing cartilage cells belonging to van Gogh’s brother’s great-great-grandson, Lieuwe van Gogh, who shares the Y chromosome and 1/16th of the painter’s genome. DNA from Vincent himself was also added to the mix, after samples were extracted from a postage stamp he licked in 1883.

Using CRISPR/Cas9, Strebe was able to fabricate something incredibly — perhaps terrifyingly — similar to van Gogh’s actual lost ear. Then using computer imaging, the ear was even shaped to be true to the original.

Art? Science? Abomination? Whatever if it is, Vincent van Gogh can hear you

The ear is currently receiving round the clock care at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where it was grown. Kept alive by oxygenated nutrient liquid, the ear could theoretically continue to live for several years.

But why grow van Gogh’s ear from slobbery stamp DNA if the world doesn’t get to see it? Don’t worry, the ear does have visiting hours.

Curious parties looking to get close to the great artist can even speak to the ear through a microphone. The sound is processed through software that simulates nerve impulses to produce real-time crackling sounds that signify the firing of auditory nerves.

When it was first unveiled during the opening on 30 May 2014 at ZKM Karlsruhe, Germany, the first person with the distinction of speaking to the ear was the philosopher and political activity Noam Chomsky.

This art piece is not only one of the strangest in terms of conception, but astonishing. It leaves audiences simultaneously wondering “why in the world would anyone do that?” and “can I touch it?”

What do you think? Would you have anything to say to the lost ear of Vincent van Gogh? We’d be gushing over those sunflowers of his, most likely.

(Via: The Pipetteer)

vincent van gogh