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explainer | ionat zurr & oron catts


The finer details of our stories explained.

explainer | ionat zurr & oron catts

Three Gates Media


Ionat and Oron’s two biggest ideas both came together within a four year period.  The Tissue Culture and Art Project was first, in 1996, when Oron and Ionat began working inside the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at UWA.  The project is all about research and development of tissue technologies to make art.  In 2000, SymbioticA was established.  Also based at UWA, it is the artistic laboratory where the methodology of life sciences is used to make art. 


Although Oron Catts was the first to make a piece of meat using tissue engineering technology, he’s acutely aware of the ethical stumbling blocks.  One of these stumbling blocks is so stark, it makes you wonder why millions of dollars are still being invested  into the development of “victimless” in-vitro meat.  The nutrient solution used to grow the cells in the lab is foetal calf serum. The serum is taken from the heart of an unborn calf when its mother is found to be pregnant at the time of slaughter.  Even after decades of research, no alternative has been found.


The first weekend in October (2015), SymbioticA will host NeoLife - the first SLSA (Society for Science, Literature and the Arts) (rest of world) conference - looking at non Western Approaches to life.  That will be followed immediately by the National Experimental Arts Forum NEAF 2015 at the Art Gallery of WA and surrounding precincts.


Who could have guessed that it would be the death (more so than the life) of a tiny little jacket that would cause a sensation in the art world.  When the Victimless Leather Jacket made its first gallery appearance at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2008, the cells grew so rapidly that senior curator Paola Antonelli decided to kill the coat. In doing so, she started a public conversation on new ways of thinking about life. 


Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr have recently been appointed to the Royal College of Art in London. Oron will be Professor of Contestable Design and Ionat will be a senior lecturer.  MoMA curator Paola Antonelli herself an honorary doctor at the RCA describes Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr as influential trailblazers, who have trained designers and civilians to tackle complex ethical dilemmas and acquire a more responsible stance towards biotechnology.


Ionat describes the pressure of “working towards the spectacular” which brings to mind the Vacanti Mouse - the mouse with an ear on its back.  In his exhibition DeMonstrable -  due to open at UWA’s Lawrence Wilson Gallery in early December - Oron looks back over 20 years post the appearance of the Vacanti mouse and reflects that progress in the field since then is significantly less than the hype predicted.  Ionat’s next exhibition is called Futile Labor and looks closely at how we manipulate life for utilitarian ends. It opens on October 2, 2015 as part of SymbioticA’s experimental HR program

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