Victimless Leather and the Promise of a Victimless Utopia

by Chelsea Franklin

In the Museum of Modern Art in New York City a project titled ‘Victimless Leather” was displayed as a small portion of a larger series known as the Tissue Culture and Art (TC&A) Project. The piece is described as being a prototype for a stitch-less jacket, grown in a techno scientific ‘body’. According to an article by the artists themselves, titled “Growing Semi-Living Sculptures: The Tissue Culture & Art Project” the core of the project functioned as an artistic manipulation of living materials, a way to challenge human reaction and prevailing western views of nature-culture dualism. The project operated out of the University of Western Australia, and was lead by artist/scientists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr. Catts and Zurr argue that the piece appears to be a part of the slowly manifesting obsession with the genetic code that has presented itself as a current trend within contemporary art. “Victimless Leather” has focused primarily on the cell, communities of cells and the forming of tissue grown from immortalized cell lines harvested from both humans and mice. In the exhibit the piece appears as a small, grown, outer garment living within a type of incubator, confronting people with the concept and moral implications of wearing previously living material. According to the project’s website, it is apart of the series that functions as the promise of a victimless utopia, combating how western culture appears to have difficulty stomaching images of real violence, but willingly views synthetic or simulated images of gore and violence. In another article by the artists titled, “Are the Semi-Living Semi-Good or Semi-Evil?” Catts and Zurr explore the “language used to describe life and evolutionary processes; from bacteria to collections of cells.” They discuss semi-living entities created by the Tissue Culture and Art Project, and investigate different notions of life “in the context of current rhetoric used in our pre-war global society”. The project has successfully challenged established ideas on the wearing of previously living substances, and provoked interesting thoughts as to the connections made here between art and science. As a whole, the potential of developing a substance that replaces leather is insightful and manages to initiate further investigation into the morality of wearing animal remains.

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Sources:

Catts, Oron, and Ionat Zurr. “Growing Semi-Living Sculptures: The Tissue Culture & Art Project.” Leonardo 35.4 (2002): 365-70. JSTOR. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://0-www.jstor.org.librarycat.risd.edu/stable/1577394&gt;.

Hemmings, Jessica, and Caryn Simonson. “Grown Fashion: Animal, Vegetable or Plastic?” Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 6.3 (2008): 262-73. Textile Technology Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Schwartz, John. “Museum Kills Live Exhibit – New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/13/science/13coat.html&gt;.

“The Tissue Culture and Art Project – The Victimless Utopia.” The Tissue Culture and Art Project – Home. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://tcaproject.org/projects/victimless&gt;.

Zurr, Ionat, and Oron Catts. “Are the Semi-Living Semi-good or Semi-evil?” Technoetic Arts: a Journal of Speculative Research 1.1 (2003): 47-60. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

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