(Photo: AP Photo/Diemut Strebe.Sugababe)
In 1888, the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear in the middle of a psychotic episode. Or perhaps it was sliced off in a sword fight with Paul Gauguin (that's the theory advanced in 2009 in a book called Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence). Either way, the story is a staple of pretty much any art history class dealing with the Impressionist period.
And now it's the premise for a very different kind of work from German artist Diemut Strebe. Sugababe, currently on display at Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, was created by a team of scientists who started by collecting living cells from Lieuwe van Gogh, the the great-great-grandson of Vincent's brother Theo. They then used 3D printing techniques to "regrow" the famous ear using living tissue.
"I use science basically like a type of brush, like Vincent used paint," Strebe told AP.
The ear itself is suspended in a clear glass case that's filled with a nutrient solution. Stranger still, the ear can actually "listen": visitors can speak to it through a microphone system that processes the sound and converts it into simulated nerve impulses (of course, there's no brain around to comprehend the signal).
As farfetched as the installation may seem, it actually makes use of 3D printing techniques that researchers are currently using to attempt to grow replacement skin for burn victims (MIT's Robert Langer, who consulted on the artwork, is an innovator in the field). And last year, we told you about the work of Princeton's Michael McAlpine, who's attempting to build organs with capabilities that go beyond what humans can do today.