Polona Tratnik: Hair in Vitro
Performative installation, 2011
Hair in vitro is part of a four-year transdisciplinary research project Bios in vitro, which develops a transdisciplinary reflection upon the impact of regenerative medicine (i.e. tissue engineering for medical application) upon the body and upon the population. Besides hair cultivation, Bios in vitro includes tissue-engineering of a heart (Initiation) and placenta regeneration (Re-Placenta), both presenting a big promise of the auto-regenerative body.
For the Hair in vitro human hair was cultivated in vitro in a highly controlled laboratorial environment. A tissue sample with hair was taken in a plastic surgery procedure from a healthy donor, whose body was cut for the purpose of this project. Such a sample is extremely fragile, so its cultivation in the laboratory required special caution; furthermore, cultivation techniques and nutrition were improved to maximise the life-span of the cultivated hair. The samples were cultivated in a bio-station for a month and we were able to observe them throughout this time. Hair growth cannot be observed with the naked eye, nor can the observer perceive in real time if the cells are alive and the tissue is growing. The only way of observing the status, activity and thus the liveness of the material is visualization with time-lapse photography. The in vitro growing hair (in tissue) was recorded for the first time ever within this project. What is most intriguing is the fact that even by visualising tissue activity it remains (almost) impossible to differentiate between the process of growing (living) and the process of dying (off) and impossible to determine the moment when life turns into death.
Foto: Damjan Švarc
Produkcija: Horizonti, Ljubljana
Credits: direction: Robert Černelč; direction of photography, film production: Jože Baša, ArtLab; biotechnological research: Miomir Knežević, Primož Rožman, Ajda Marič, Živa Marinko; surgery: Aleš Leskovšek.
Special thanks to Blood Transfusion Centre of Slovenia, University of Primorska – Science and Research Centre of Koper, SIMED Zdravstvo d. o. o., Mojca Jež and Matija Veber.
The project was supported by Slovenian Ministry of Culture.
Polona Tratnik is a pioneer of biotechnological art, having included tissue engineering to grow human skin into her sculpture in 2000. She has participated at leading events in this field, including the exhibition L’Art Biotech (Nantes, 2003), the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth (2004), the exhibition In vivo in vitro (Athens, 2006), the Ars Electronica Festival and a number of other exhibitions worldwide (Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Spain, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia etc.).
Polona Tratnik is associate professor of philosophy, teaching at the University of Maribor and at the Faculty of Design (Slovenia), and president of the Slovenian Society of Aesthetics. She has been Fulbright Researcher as well as visiting lecturer at the University of California Santa Cruz, as well as visiting lecturer at universities in Beijing, Helsinki and Mexico City. She has authored five scientific monographies.
Artist's web page: www.polona-tratnik.si