Tissue Update: Skin Art
"I basically drip the cells over the glass and they stick to the surface and they slowly start to grow and spread out until there is a thin membrane ... It's quite hard to see with the naked eye so I dye it with a tissue culture dye."When my story about the afterlife of tissue samples ran in the NY Times Magazine, they gave it this tagline: "Those blood and tissue samples you routinely give - where are they? Who owns them? What are they being used for? And how come you don't know?" Well, if you live in Tasmania and you go to the Royal Hobart Hospital, this art project is one thing your tissues may be used for someday. But for now, there's a bit of a hold up: The University of Tasmania's Human Research and Ethics Board approved the artist's request to use skin cells for this project, but the hospital is refusing, saying it's "inappropriate." It took the ethics board six months to give artist permission to use her own cells for the project -- I'm guessing it'll take much longer to settle the question of using other people's cells. As the artist said in a wonderful understatement: "It's much more clear-cut with ethics if I am using my own."
Fortunately using her own skin cells is fine by King -- at least for now -- because she has some interesting personal motives:
“I'm really interested to see if it changes my relationship to my own body, my perspective on self," she says. "… When I was 17 I had an operation, I had my top jaw moved forward. I remember after I came out of the intensive care I looked in the mirror for the first time and didn’t recognise myself at all and just completely flipped out. But it changed the relationship with my body completely. So I wonder if this will be another change.”