Biomateria; Biotextile Craft

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BIOMATERIA Biotextile Craft


BIOMateria; Biotextile Craft © WhiteFeather Hunter 2015 ISBN 978-1-312-86721-5 First edition. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the publisher. All photos and design © WhiteFeather Hunter unless otherwise stated. Contact: Portions of this text were first developed during a 15-week research-creation residency at SymbioticA Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, University of Western Australia in Perth, 2014. Continued research and development took place during concurrent artist residencies throughout 2015 at the Pelling Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation, uOttawa, Canada; Fluxmedia Lab and the Biology Tissue Culture Lab/ Sacher Lab at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. This book was produced as part of the body of work presented in the exhibition of Biomateria + Contagious Matters by WhiteFeather Hunter and Tristan Matheson, at the FOFA Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada from November 2 December 12, 2015. Biomateria + Contagious Matters was presented as part of the Media Art Histories (MAH) Re-Create: Theories, Methods and Practices of Research-Creation in the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, for the 10th Anniversary of the International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology at Concordia University and Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), held from November 5-8, 2015.


A self-published artist book

DEDICATED TO Eliah, my bright manifestation. Carlos, my shoulder ride in life. Betty Jean, my sweet cheek.

BIOMATERIA Biotextile Craft



Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) artsnb (New Brunswick Arts Board) Hexagram | CIAM Concordia University Faculty of Fine Arts Concordia School of Graduate Studies Concordia International FLUXMEDIA at CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY: Dr Tagny Duff, Tristan Matheson

PELLING LABORATORY FOR BIOPHYSICAL MANIPULATION, uOTTAWA, especially: Dr Andrew Pelling, Daniel Modulevsky, Alexandre Leclerc

CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY BIOLOGY DEPARTMENT: Dr Michael Sacher, Djenann Saint-Dic, Chloe van Oostende

SYMBIOTICA CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE IN BIOLOGICAL ART/ UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA, DEPARTMENT OF ANATOMY, PHYSIOLOGY AND HUMAN BIOLOGY, especially: Dr Ionat Zurr. Oron Catts, Chris Cobilis, Soichiro Mihara and the community of incredible artist-researchers in the Master of Biological Arts, PhD and residency programs.

CELLCENTRAL LABORATORIES, UWA: Guy Ben-Ary, Dr Stuart Hodgetts, Mary Lee, Shirley Chang



CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Marc Beaulieu, Antoliano Nieto, JosĂŠe Hamelin, Tim Belliveau FOFA GALLERY, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY Jennifer Dorner and Stephan Schulz, Sarah Amarica, Lucie Lederhendler, and the rest of the amazing gallery staff

CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY HEALTH AND SAFETY: Christina St Louis-Tulli, Lorena Boju, Frederic Guilhem

MFA THESIS DEFENSE PANEL MEMBERS: Dr Tagny Duff, Jens Hauser, Kelly Thompson, Lynn Hughes, Luanne Martineau

PRIVATE DONORS (SymbioticA research-creation residency): Peter Steggall, Alison Short, Joan Peddle, Cathy Gillis, Erica Stanley, Betty Hunter, Yolande & Lee Clark, Jennica Lounsbury, Carol Green, Sonny Assu, Mireille Bourgeois, Elliott Rajnovic, Kerri-Lynn Reeves, Barbara Layne, Pauline McClusky, Mireille Eagan, Renee Laprise, Allison Green, Rebecca Smyth, Jane Adams, Ingrid Bachmann, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Thomson, Amanda Ruiz, Monica Lacey, Hannah Givler, Julie Whittaker, Fabiola Martinez, John MacDermid, Ann Manuel, Laura Maynard, Karen LeBlanc, Patricia O'Brien


“The basic texture of research consists of dreams into which the threads of reasoning, measurement, and calculation are woven.” —ALBERT SZENT-GYORGYI, Biochemist/Physiologist, 1937 Nobel Prize Winner In Physiology Or Medicine


CONTENTS Acknowledgments Introduction Protocols Aseptic Technique 21 D-10 22 Thawing Frozen Cells (Cell Resuscitation) 25 Feeding Mammalian Cell Cultures 27 Cell Passaging 28 Osteoblast Isolation from Rat Bone Marrow 31 Bone Soup 33 Counting Cells 34 Aseptic Requiem 36 Freezing Down Cells (Cryopreservation) 37 Fixing cells 38 Decellularization using Trypsin 39 Hoescht Staining Nuclei 40 Sterilizing Decellularized Tissue 41 Preparing Silk Fibre for Use as Scaffold Material 42 Wet Weaving 43 Seeding Biotextile Scaffolds 46 Eucalyptus Dye + Histology Stain 47 Haptic Epistemology—Philosophy + Methodology 49 Vital Materials 53 The Craft of Tissue Culture 55 Interdigitations 58 What’s the Matter? Ethical Considerations in Life as Art Material Epistemological Ethics 64 Methodological Mashup 67 The Witch in the Lab Coat 70 The Artist as Contaminant 73 Material Innovation 75


DIY/ BioHacking, Tissue Culture + Bureaucracy References + Notes Glossary of Technical + New Terms List of Works + Descriptions Resources


77 80 86 95 106

INTRODUCTION I’ve come to science through the back door, through art. Or, the side door. I’ll assume a horizontal positioning between art and science, versus a foreground/background relationship. Such is the nature of BioArt. I’ve gained access, through art, to biology laboratories in Canada and Australia. This wasn’t just to look around at beakers and flasks, and talk to scientists about what they do. I was able to get my hands wet, doing what I do, but in a lab: make art. I didn’t just make art—I made science, too. Here’s a disclaimer, though: I’m not a scientist. The protocols contained in this book are legit lab protocols for tissue culture and biotextile engineering, based on methods that I used, practiced and adapted for my own needs. Some of the protocols are basic and standard, while others are invented and unusual. Readers are free to try them out, but I can’t promise all of the results that I was able to achieve, just from following a protocol. I do believe that with tissue engineering, results typically require some blind experimentation and years of practice. Tissue culture is fun and interesting, but also frustrating, time consuming and expensive. It doesn’t entirely work as DIY, though the electronic supports can. Art isn’t a magical access card that opens lab doors, either. Artists have to sometimes persistently insist to get in, completing numerous biosafety certifications and convincing authorities of capability. Once in, a Pandora’s box of ethical issues is opened, some hot and new and unresolved and others long-debated and still contested. I touch on these and other issues relevant to BioArt briefly, in the philosophy + methodology section of the book.


This book is meant to serve as an entry point into the craft of tissue culture, a book I wish I’d had access to when I first began. Protocols will evolve and develop, and I invite readers to write their own notes on the pages, just like in any well-used handbook. I include a glossary of some basic, necessary technical terms as well as new terms that I’ve invented. I also include a small list of resources that I found useful, or that were helpful to me in my work. In addition to being a work itself, this book also serves as a self-published catalogue for the exhibition, Biomateria. I include a list of works in the exhibition, and their descriptions, near the end.




" contaminant, contagion, infection, biohazard, communicability, contact

containment, sterile, sanitary, biosafety, clean, untouched

ASEPSIS is a cultural belief system, as much as a method.

The body and its social construction, bodies + antibodies, and the containment of contamination is an agreement between members of a particular culture, particles of a greater body: that boundaries exist or can be made to exist between discrete matter/ material objects (bodies)/ microorganisms/ stuff/ things. Not all cultures agree. Communicable, communication, community is preventable, a social order, a legal order, a doctor’s order. Particulates can be denied entry, chemically controlled, rendered powerless, agents of nothing, autoclaved into oblivion. A social contract against contact, certifiably sterile, consent to be contained.


The original “Bubble Boy”, David Vetter (1971-1983), born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), spent his life in a plastic containment chamber meant to prevent his contact with any single microorganism. Like cells in a petri dish, Vetter only ever experienced 20 seconds exposure to the outside world, at birth. David lived out his life in a NASA-built ecosphere. His only human contact was with gloved hands inserted into the membrane of his bubble, without puncturing its barriers. Sterile food, toys, books and clothes made their way in without causing contamination. Hospital staff reached a collective agreement that raising a child in such a manner met their ethical standards, though David grew evermore discontent. Eventually NASA built David a bubble suit so that he could experience being outdoors, an astronaut on a planet hostile to his existence. One of his life’s wishes was to see the night sky. He died at age 12 from complications after surgery. More info:


“It’s in the nature of bodies to be susceptible to infusion, invasion, collaboration by and with other bodies. Any extant contour or boundary of entityhood is always subject to change. Bodies are essentially intercorporeal.”

– Jane Bennett, Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter*

ASEPTIC TECHNIIQUE •  Work in designated contained laboratory area. •  Tie back long hair, wash hands with soap and hot water, wear lab coat, wear properly fitting nitrile gloves. •  Lab coats and gloves do not leave the lab. •  UV-sterilize laminar flow hood (also known as a biosafety cabinet) 20 mins, raise sash to appropriate working height, leave HEPA filtration system on for duration of work. •  Spray down working surfaces inside hood with 70% ethanol* (EtOH) and wipe with paper towel. Spray down all containers, tools, etc with EtOH before entering them into hood, unless removing them from sterile packaging. Spray gloves.

*Material Safety: Ethanol is a neurotoxin and psychoactive agent. Use with caution, even if it has been downgraded, aged in tannic acid and cooled in a tumbler on ice. You must contain yourself.


D-10 CULTURE MEDIA D-10 is a standard fluid medium with serum, used to nurture mammalian cells in vitro. Media are modified in accordance with the needs of cell type. For 3T3 (connective tissue) cell lines or HeLa (human cervical cancer) cell lines, basic nutrients will suffice. Other cell lines, such as C2C12 (mouse muscle tissue) will require a more powerful serum, such as horse, at a higher percentage (usually 20%). Investigate cell type needs first. •  Prepare biosafety lab workspace according to aseptic technique •  Retrieve from freezer, fridge or cold room and warm the following in a warm water bath at 37˙C until all fluids have reached bath/body temperature (approx 20 mins): •  500mL bottle of Dulbecco's Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM) with L-Glutamine •  5mL (1%) Penicillin/Streptomycin (P/S) in aliquot tube •  45mL (10%) Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), or Fetal Calf Serum (FCS), or equivalent in aliquot tube •  Once warmed, move all bottles/tubes to sterilized flow hood •  Aspirate 50mL DMEM from bottle and into sterile 50mL falcon tube. Label with name, date and store in fridge. Remaining DMEM in bottle = 450mL •  Combine all remaining warmed fluids (P/S, FBS) together in DMEM bottle, recap and shake vigorously •  Media is now ready for use, or return capped container to fridge after labeling with ingredients (and percentages), date, name of researcher – or if lazy, just label with “D-10” and your name. >> D-10: D refers to DMEM, and 10 refers to the percentage of FBS. >> P/S protects a cell culture from bacterial contamination, since cells in vitro have no immune system. Contamination would destroy the cell culture by consuming the nutrients in the media and making it very acidic very quickly, starving and damaging the growing cells.



is a byproduct of the meat industry. The serum is derived from the blood of a fetal calf, extracted via surgical needle inserted into its heart after removal from its mother. “Vegetarian-friendly” lab-grown meat is grown with FBS.


The listed laboratory supplies can be obtained from a number of suppliers, one of which is listed in the RESOURCES section at the end. Alternatives to EtOH include standard rubbing alcohol (isopropynol) or a .01% chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solution. Bleach is corrosive to skin and other surfaces, as well as a health hazard if fumes are inhaled. You probably shouldn’t clean your bathroom with it that often, either. Rubbing alcohol can pose a health threat through long-term exposure such as through skin absorption. Anything harmful to microorganisms is possibly also hazardous to you and your personal microbiome, in some measure. HeLa cell lines are covertly codenamed after Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cervical cancer cells were biopsied and cultured without her consent in the 1950s. They were the first human cells successfully grown in a lab for the purposes of scientific experimentation. Rebecca Skloot has written an excellent book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, that details not only Henrietta’s life and the humble beginnings of tissue culture, but also the struggle of her family to reclaim and protect privacy and human dignity. Skloot’s book is listed in the References + Notes section.



Frozen cells are stored long-term in liquid nitrogen. Frozen cells that have been stored in a -80˚C freezer (not liquid nitro) for more than six to twelve months may no longer be viable. Other factors such as freezer malfunction may also play a role in the reduced viability of frozen cells kept at -80˚F. Resuscitating cells is stressful for them. Work quickly once they begin to thaw.

•  Prepare lab working area, including hood sterilization. •  Warm culture media in bath and stock hood with a number of 10mL plastic pipettes, 50mL falcon tubes, a bottle of sterile phosphate buffered solution (PBS) (does not have to be warmed beyond room temp) ) and T-75 flasks. Determine # flasks to use per thawed cryovial – I typically use two flasks per cryovial but this may change according to cell type/ proliferation. •  Under hood, fill falcon tube (1 per cryovial) with 20mL PBS. •  Remove desired cryovials from liquid nitro tank (dewar) and immediately begin warming vials in bath or incubator until contents are liquid (2-3 minutes). •  Aspirate cryovial contents into falcon tube with PBS. *LABEL TUBE with cell type, otherwise it may be confused with the tube of 20mL water used for balance in centrifuge. •  Spin down contents in falcon tube in a centrifuge for 4 mins @ 1500 rpms. •  Return tube to hood and aspirate supernatant (liquid), leaving cell pellet at bottom. Usually, you can’t even see the cell pellet, or can only barely see it – just leave a tiny amount of liquid at the bottom of the tube and know that cells are there. •  Add another 20mL PBS to the tube and resuspend cells in the liquid using a vortex spinner, or scrape the tube bottom along the hood grate until you imagine the cells are resuspended…


•  Return tube to centrifuge and spin down again. •  Return tube to hood and aspirate supernatant, leaving cell pellet at bottom. •  Add 20mL warmed media (probably D-10) to tube and resuspend cells in media. •  Aspirate 10mL cell suspension from tube and into first T-75 flask. Put lid on flask and rest on its side. •  Aspirate final 10mL cell suspension from tube and into second T-75 flask. Lid and rest flask on side. •  Label flasks with cell type, passage number (which should have been written on the cryovial or nitro tank datasheet), researcher’s name and date. •  Immediately place flasks in CO2 incubator. •  Do not disturb flasks for 2-3 days while cells recover.



The metabolic processes of in vitro cells include consuming nutrients from the culture media as well as excreting waste. Media must be refreshed every 2-3 days or it can become acidic and not contain enough sustenance. Most researchers will change culture media on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but scheduled feeding is up to the individual researcher. Cell culture media often has phenol red dye added to indicate pH. Yellowed media is too acidic, while purple media is more basic. Pinkish-red indicates the ideal 7.2-7.4 pH. •  Prepare lab working area, including hood sterilization. •  Warm culture media (D-10) in bath and stock the hood with 10mL plastic pipettes. •  Inspect cultures under microscope to check for contamination and note general cell health (e.g. there should be no ‘exploded’ cells nor small, black, moving dots in the media which would indicate bacterial contamination). There should be no fibrous, white growth, either which would indicate a fungal contamination. •  Aspirate all spent culture media from flasks/dishes into waste container. •  Aspirate 10mL warmed culture media into each flask/dish. •  Cap and lay flasks on side. •  Return all flasks/dishes to CO2 incubator. •  Add full percentage bleach (not a mixed solution) to waste container, allow to sit for 20 minutes and dump down sink drain. >> If culture media becomes too acidic between changes, rinsing cells with PBS after aspirating spent media, and before adding new media might be beneficial to the cells. Some cell types will detach when rinsed or washed vigorously with PBS (such as 3T3s) so care should be taken not to detach adherent cells unwittingly.



Cells should be passaged before they form a monolayer (become confluent) on the bottom of the flask. Inspect culture dishes or flasks under microscope to determine confluency. Passage cells at around 60-80% confluency. Some robust, fast-growing cell types should be passaged at 40-60% confluency. Cell passaging is the process of detaching cells from each other and from the bottom of the flask or dish, so that they can be divided and allowed more room to grow. Most cell types stop growing after a monolayer has formed. Passaging is done using a digestive enzyme (Trypsin) that has been sourced from pig or cow pancreas. This enzyme dissolves the cell membrane. If cells are left in trypsin too long, they will be destroyed. •  Prepare lab working area, including hood sterilization. •  Warm culture media and falcon tube of Trypsin-EDTA in bath and stock hood with a number of 5 and 10mL plastic pipettes, PBS and T-75 flasks or 100mm petri dishes. You will need approximately 2mL Trypsin per dish or T-75 flask, so thaw the appropriate amount. •  Aspirate all culture media from confluent flasks/dishes and stand flasks upright. •  Rinse each flask/dish with PBS and aspirate, 3x. *Do not direct fluid stream directly at the cells. •  Add 2mL Trypsin to each flask/dish and incubate on flat side for 2-3 mins. •  Remove flasks/dishes from incubator and return to hood. •  Add 20mL culture media to each flask/dish in order to neutralize the Trypsin. •  Aspirate 10mL new cell suspension (neutralized) from flask/dish and into new flask/dish. Leave remaining 10mL in original flask/ dish. •  Cap and return to incubator. Do not disturb for 2-3 days.


A do-it-yourself adventure in PRIMARY SOURCING of cells Primary sourcing is one way live cells are acquired for tissue culture. A much more difficult process, primary sourcing requires taking live cell/tissue samples from a human or other mammal. Primary cells are unlike cell lines, which have become immortalized and can undergo mitosis (cell division) almost indefinitely. Primary cells can only divide approximately 50-70 times before dying (called the Hayflick limit). Primary sourcing can be undertaken using animals that have just been slaughtered, with an abattoir being the best place to access still-live cell/tissue samples. Sourcing bone and tissue samples from a butcher is ineffective–too much time passes between slaughter and sale to the public. Also, freezing tissue without using cryopreservation methods will destroy the cells and meat is often frozen during the shipping process. Primary sourcing should happen either while the source is still live or within 12-24 hours of death.

Mouse fetus on microscopy slide.


Bone marrow is often used as a source of primary cells. This can be obtained from large mammal sources by sawing through a femur with an electric bone saw (I borrowed one from a university morgue for research purposes). Extracting marrow from smaller mammals such as rats or mice is much easier, as the femora are hollow and the marrow easily flushed out with a syringe.

Henry, patron saint of primary sourcing Henry was the name of a pussy willow-grey cat that I lived with in Australia. We had a special bond, fostered through daily breakfast conversation. Henry always had something to say when food was present. I fed Henry his breakfast whenever I ate mine: a bowl of kitty vittles for him, a bowl of cereal for me. Henry wasn’t happy with a simple staple cat food diet, though. He was an avid hunter (this is actually a problem in Australia where many small, unique mammal species are disappearing because of house cat predators who have gotten loose in the wilderness and evolved into feral, oversized feline beasts). One day Henry yowled at me from the bottom of the stairs like somebody had died. Somebody had, and was being offered ceremoniously to me by Henry, as a symbol of his love and devotion. I refrigerated the rodent in a plastic container and took it with me to the lab the next morning. I only got away with this because everybody was away – bringing wild animal carcasses in to a lab environment is very much against protocol, which I was unsure of but I did have a common sense inkling that this was likely the case. However, I quickly extracted the two femora from the rat with a scalpel and disposed of its incriminating body in the refrigerated biohazard bin where lab mice are eventually disposed of.


OSTEOBLAST ISOLATION FROM RAT BONE MARROW * Adapted from: Hisatomo Kondo et al. Temporal Changes of mRNA Expression of Matrix Proteins and Parathyroid Hormone and Parathyroid Hormone-Related Protein (PTH/PTHrP) Receptor in Bone Development. Journal of Bone and Mineral Res. Vol. 12, No. 12, 2089-2097. 1997.

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Prepare flow hood and include the following tools: sterile scissors and tweezers, 2x 21-gauge syringe needles and syringes, 2x T-75 culture flasks, D-10, PBS, 2x 50mL falcon tubes, scalpel with blades, petri dishes, rat body. Femora are aseptically removed from rat with scalpel. Scrape off adherent soft tissue and bone, wash 5x with PBS. Remove both ends of first femur with scissors. Flush out bone marrow cavity into 50mL falcon tube with 5mL D-10 using sterile syringe and 21-gauge needle Add an additional 15mL D-10 to tube and shake repeatedly to facilitate cell suspension. Repeat process for second femur. Centrifuge both tubes 1000x 5min and count cells (see protocol). Re-suspend and seed cells in T-75 flasks. After 24 hours, aspirate medium, including floating cells, and replace medium with Bone Soup (see protocol). Microscopically observe culture to identify adherent cells. Replace medium every 2-3 days.


“The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing

together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.� H. P. Lovecraft The Call of Cthulhu (1926)


BONE SOUP Cooking metaphors in tissue culture are numerous. The nutrient media used to feed cells is also referred to as the ‘broth’. This particular protocol (recipe) is for osteoblast culture media, or the broth to feed bone-building cells. It was passed on to me at SymbioticA as the Bone Soup protocol. This is a slightly more advanced protocol, as it requires micro-amounts of specialized (and expensive) chemicals. •  Mix together (in α-DMEM bottle): •  450mL α-DMEM •  45mL FBS •  5mL Penicillin-Streptomycin (P/S) •  0.2mM Ascorbic Acid (AA) •  10nM Dexamethasone •  1mM Beta-glycerophosphate (β-GP) (for mineralization only) You might need some math help with this. Calculations for micro-amounts: •  0.2mM AA = 20mg/500mL = 200ug of 10% stock solution •  10nM Dex. = 1.9625ug/500mL •  1mM β-GP = 0.108g/500mL Bone soup is what to feed mouse osteoblasts (thawed from cryovials) or cells from primary sourced rat bone marrow after initial isolation. The ascorbic acid content is Vitamin C, which keeps osteoblasts, the bone builder cells, from differentiating (changing) into osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone matter. Mmm… I suddenly have an urge to eat an orange! Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that helps the cells proliferate and helps regulate differentiation. Betaglycerophosphate is a type of salt which will promote calcification of bone tissue (mineralization).


COUNTING CELLS Counting cells is important for controlled experiments, in order to accurately calculate rate of growth, prepare for freezing cells, etc. However, when conducting tissue culture for art making purposes, one can easily opt out of counting cells with no real consequences. •  Passage 2 x T-75 flasks of cells and neutralize with 5mL D-10 each •  Spin down cells together in centrifuge @1500 rpm x 4 mins •  Aspirate supernatant and add 1mL fresh D-10, resuspend cells •  Prepare the haemocytometer: •  Make sure the slide and cover slip are clean. Use EtOH if necessary •  Moisten edges of cover slip (breathe on it to humidify) and apply to grid surface of slide •  Touch drop (10uL) of cell suspension (shaken/stirred) onto edge of cover slip at the surface of the slide—capillary action will draw a volume of cell suspension between slide and cover slip •  Do not move the coverslip in order to avoid introducing air bubbles •  Do not allow volume to spill into grooves flanking the grid on the slide. The cover slip must be totally covered inside, however •  Inspect under microscope. If cells are clumped together, you will need to try to break them up by diluting the cell suspension and starting over. Clumps of 3-10 cells are OK as long as you can count them easily •  Count the cells using a click counter, in the grid of 25 small squares (each of which is itself divided into 16 smaller squares). Count cells that touch only two selected border lines as being in the grid, while ignoring cells touching the other two border lines…


•  Make an average count (use two different grids) and note dilution factor. The volume of suspension contained between the slide and cover slip within the 25-square grid is 1x10[-4]mL (according to the dimensions of each square and the distance between slide and cover slip) •  Multiply the average number of cells by 1x10[4] and this will give you a cell number/mL of suspension. Take into account any dilution. For example, if you count 150 cells in the grid specified, then your cell count is 150 x 10[4] = 1.5 x 10[6] cells per mL. •  Other formulas for counting that can be used are as follows: Total cells/mL = avg cell count x (dilution factor) x 10,000 cells/mL (# of squares) OR Total cells = dilution factor x (avg cell count) x10,000 cells/mL (volume of resuspension) >> In the above protocol, the volume of resuspension is 1mL (so, 1)


ASEPTIC REQUIEM for compassionate disposal of in vitro organisms •  UV sterilize laminar flow hood 20 mins + spray w/ EtOH •  Utilize appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) •  Prep hood with liquid waste container + bleach •  Pipette all media from culture flasks into waste container •  Pipette 10-20mL bleach directly into culture flasks •  Replace caps on flasks + rest flasks on sides •  Allow bleach to completely cover cell monolayer •  Bleach will inactivate cell culture after approx 60 secs •  Reflect on Culture, Science + their benefits •  Reflection should take no more than 30 secs •  Issue brief verbal statement of acknowledgement: •  “Thank you for everything you’ve taught me in __ weeks” •  “The project is now complete” •  “Your contributions have been valuable” •  And, “All activity has been recorded for future research” •  Process should take no longer than 60 secs total •  Pour bleach from flasks into liquid waste container •  Dispose of flasks in proper biohazardous waste bin •  Remove liquid waste container from hood + replace cap •  Shake vigorously •  Dispose of remaining liquid down regular sink drain, as it is no longer a biohazard •  Rinse drain with tap water •  Dispose of gloves + remove lab coat before exiting lab Not all Principal Investigators find a requiem necessary. Needs will vary depending on beliefs, with regards to the meaning of a culture.


FREEZING DOWN CELLS CRYOGENICS PART II: CRYOPRESERVATION Keeping a frozen cell stock is important for maintaining samples of low passage number cell lines and for ensuring that you never run out of cells. Frozen cell lines can be traded with other researchers in order to build a working library of cell types. This protocol requires ongoing access to a liquid nitrogen tank. >> Carrying out this protocol is time sensitive as Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is toxic to cells when they aren’t frozen. DMSO is used as a cryoprotectant, protecting cell membranes from being punctured by ice crystals as they form in the cell suspension during the freezing process. •  Follow the cell count protocol in preparation for freezing down •  Spin or dilute cells to give a count of 1.5 million/mL medium (D-10) •  Label vials with cell type, passage number, date, initials, cell count—it’s very important to do this first before beginning the freezing process, as there will not be time to do it afterwards •  Add 100uL DMSO to each vial (10%) •  Add equal volume (100uL or 10%) of neat FBS and mix well with pipette gun (aspirate up and down) •  Add 0.8mL (80%) cell suspension per vial and mix well with pipette gun •  IMMEDIATELY start the freezing process which will be gradual, by placing cryovials in Mr Frosty container filled with isopropynol and place in -80˚C freezer O/N •  The next day, remove Mr Frosty from -80˚C freezer •  Remove cryovials from Mr Frosty, place in liquid nitro storage boxes (Nalgene) and immediately submerge in liquid nitro dewar •  Cryovials can be kept indefinitely in liquid nitrogen until needed


FIXING CELLS “Fixing” cells means preserving them in a way that resembles their live form as much as possible. This helps with microscopic imaging, in order to show the cells exactly as they were. Fixing cells is different than simple disposal, requiring strong chemical preservation (just like any deceased tissue). •  Prepare flow hood with required materials: PBS, pipettes, etc. •  Aspirate all culture media from dishes/flasks •  Rinse dishes/flasks gently with PBS 2x The next steps should ultimately be done under a proper ventilation hood, as the chemicals used are extremely toxic. •  Submerge cell layer (or tissue scaffold) completely in 4% Paraformaldehyde and let sit 15 mins •  After 15 mins, rinse with PBS 3x •  Tissue samples can be stored for a number of days in PBS in a fridge—tissue should be kept moist at all times •  Seal dish or flask with parafilm to retain moisture *Other chemicals that can be used (that I’ve used) for fixing cells include acetone and formalin. Ethanol will not fix cells—it will just kill them.


DECELLULARIZATION USING TRYPSIN Decellularization is the process of removing all cells from the extracellular matrix, or basically cleaning off the underlying structure of tissue in order to use it as a starting point for growing new tissue (cells). Decellularizing mammalian tissue leaves a collagen matrix while decelluarlizing plant tissue leaves a cellulose matrix. Live mammalian cells can be seeded onto either a collagen or cellulose matrix, which they will adhere to and begin to proliferate. Notes: •  Use standard Trypsin-EDTA that is normally used to dissociate cells from tissue culture plastic (passaging) •  Timing is flexible—originally the TX-100 was was done for 5 days and rinsed in H20 for several days at a time, but this didn’t seem to make much difference. I used hog gut with this protocol and it was effective •  Isolate tissue sections (e.g. thin pork chop slices, hog gut, etc) —the thinner the section, the more rapid decellularization •  Wash tissue in ultrapure H2O overnight in beaker/container on a rocker at 4˚C •  Incubate tissue in 0.05% Trypsin-EDTA 30-60 mins @ 37˚C •  Wash the tissue briefly with ultrapure H2O to remove Trypsin •  Neutralize the Trypsin by incubating tissue in D-10 culture media at RT, 2 x 30 min (can leave O/N at 4˚C) •  Wash the tissue (on a rocker at 4˚C) in 1% Triton-X-100 made up in ultrapure H2O for 1-2 days, changing the wash buffer 2x per day •  Wash the tissue in ultrapure H2O for another day •  To check how well the sections have decellularized, stain with DAPI or Hoescht


HOESCHT STAINING NUCLEI Hoescht is a colourless stain visible under ultraviolet light. Hoescht has the particular quality of permeating cell membranes and staining the nuclei. This is useful for checking decellularized tissue for any remaining cells, in order to know if the decellularization process has been successful. •  Mix Hoescht working solution: 5uL Hoescht in 10mL PBS •  Rinse decellularized tissue well with PBS—tissue should already be clean •  Drop solution (with plastic dropper pipette) on clean decellularized tissue and let sit 30 seconds •  Rinse with PBS 5x for 60 seconds each •  Spread decellularized tissue layer on glass microscopy slide and cover with glass cover slip •  View under microscope with ultraviolet light—nuclei will glow deep blue if any remain •  A very small nuclei count indicates sucessful decellularization —numerous nuclei indicate that more decellularization is necessary before tissue can be repopulated with living cells


STERILIZING DECELLULARIZED TISSUE Tissue sterilization is necessary before seeding with new live cells. The following sterilization process was used on decellularized hog gut tissue. A tissue sample was first tested with Hoescht stain for cell nuclei. •  Prepare sterilized laminar flow hood •  Soak decellularized tissue in sterile dish containing EtOH for 30-60 mins •  Rinse tissue with PBS in new sterile dish 10x. All EtOH must be removed from tissue prior to seeding new cells •  Store rinsed tissue in falcon tubes of PBS. Keep in fridge until needed •  Freeze tissue in PBS if not using immediately •  Test sterility by incubating tissue sample in DMEM 24-48 hours


PREPARING SILK FIBRE FOR USE AS SCAFFOLD MATERIAL Silk is a desirable scaffold material as it is extremely strong, organic and fine. Silk is comprised of two proteins: sericin (20%) and fibroin (80%). Sericin is cytotoxic and must be removed from the silk fibre before use in cell culture. Fibroin is a non-cytotoxic protein that cells grow on extremely well. Sericin can be removed with sodium carbonate (soda ash or Na2CO3), a close cousin of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). To prepare sodium carbonate at home, simply bake sodium bicarbonate in an oven on a pan lined with foil, at 200˚F for 1 hr. Sodium carbonate will have a crumbly texture versus the powdery texture of baking soda. If the texture isn’t right, bake it another hour. >> Soda ash is corrosive to the skin, so best to handle with gloves and avoid breathing the particulates.

•  Prepare soda ash and store in airtight container •  Wind silk fibre into small skeins (bundles), tied off at a couple of intervals to prevent tangling when submerged in liquid •  Weigh bundles and record weight (weight of goods, or WOG) •  Submerge fibre in RT DH2O (distilled water) and allow to soak •  Heat DH2O to approx 80˚C on a magnetic stirrer hot plate, enough to completely cover fibre •  Add 0.02% soda ash to water. Determine amount based on WOG •  Add 1-2 drops liquid detergent to water – this is a surfactant and will allow water and soda ash to penetrate the fibre •  Add yarn and simmer at 80˚F for 1 hr, and then cool to RT •  Rinse fibre very well in ultrapure H2O and dry O/N in flow hood •  Sterilize dried fibre with EtOH. Autoclaving can potentially break down silk fibre, as can UV. Can be stored in EtOH. 42"

WET WEAVING Wet weaving, or aseptic weaving, is a process that I invented in the lab, in order to aseptically hand-weave scaffolds for tissue engineering. Wet weaving utilizes petri dish-sized micro looms, 3D printed from an adapted (scaled down) design, which can be sourced online. The looms have been printed with both resin and Polylactic acid (PLA), with different results: resin is noncytotoxic but no cells appear to grow on it, while PLA is a cell-friendly biopolymer that cells grow extremely well on. The advantage of using resin looms is that there aren’t extra cells consuming nutrient media, while the disadvantage is that they are brittle and more difficult to sterilize (ethanol sterilization isn’t advised). This protocol will reference PLA micro looms as the basic tool.

3D print micro loom design w/ weaving needle and comb

I have woven the textile scaffolds with both the 3D printed needle and comb provided, as well as used regular metal darning and/or dollmaking needles (which are longer). All tools and the loom are sterilized by soaking them in 70% EtOH. Store tools in EtOH in


•  •  •  •  •

•  •  •  •

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petri dishes sealed with Parafilm or in 50mL falcon tubes (for the smaller tools). Storing metal needles in EtOH will eventually rust them. 3D print several micro looms in PLA Sterilize loom and tools in EtOH @4 mins minimum, longer if possible as the 3D prints are porous Do not autoclave for sterilization as PLA is thermoplastic Sterilize scissors by soaking (with arms open) in petri dish with EtOH @ 4 mins minimum – scissors can be stored this way but will rust All weaving materials (hair, string, suture threads, decellularized tissue) should be similarly sterilized and stored in EtOH – most surgical sutures are pre-sterilized and do not need to be soaked again Surgical gloves are best for working hands on with the tools and materials, but regular lab-grade nitrile gloves will suffice Spray gloves periodically with EtOH while working When possible, handle looms with sterile tweezers, although this is impossible during the weaving process Warp the loom with material strong enough to retain tension. I have successfully used instrument-grade horse hair (for violin bows), catgut surgical sutures, and fine (loosely spun) commercial silk yarn as well as fine, handspun linen yarn. Materials that don’t work well as warp threads include human hair, silk surgical suture thread or regular sewing thread. The fineness or tight twist can easily lead to breakage or ineffective sterilization Yarns should not be UV sterilized or autoclaved, as these methods will break down some fibres Lighter coloured threads are easier to see under microscope – instrument-grade horsehair or catgut surgical sutures are ideal

•  Weave sterile (soaked in EtOH @ 4 mins) weft materials into the warp – plain weave is the best structure due to its resistance to packing. A slightly open structure will be woven, which cells can grow on, fill in and easily be seen, while a more packed structure such as twill will condense the weaving and make it very difficult to see cells •  Weft materials that work best include lighter-coloured human hair, instrument-grade horse hair, catgut surgical sutures, decellularized tissue cut in very thin strips, and loosely spun natural fibres such as silk or linen •  Cells can also be grown on sterilized watercolour paper (strips) with a torn edge – it will have cellulose fibres protruding from it •  After weaving the desired mass of ‘cloth’, use the weft thread to secure the warp on both top and bottom with a stitched loop binding at the edges. This will allow the cloths to be removed from the looms later without loosening the structure. This may be required for microscopy •  Knot all threads well •  Store finished textile on the loom, in petri dish with EtOH and sealed with Parafilm, until ready for use

SEEDING BIOTEXTILE SCAFFOLDS >> I have found through trial and error that biotextile scaffolds woven with natural fibres do not require coating before seeding. Cells will adhere to natural fibres on their own. In my experiments, natural fibre scaffolds coated with laminin did not perform as well as non-coated scaffolds. >> I have also discovered that rabbit skin glue, which is essentially purified collagen, will work as a coating agent after sterilization but is not necessary. *More research is required before promoting regular use of this standard (inexpensive) art material as a tissue culture coating agent. •  Prepare biosafety cabinet (laminar flow hood) with UV and EtOH sterilization methods •  Stock hood with 5mL pipettes, warmed culture media, PBS, sterile petri dishes, 50mL falcon tubes, and sterile tweezers •  Rinse sterile biotextiles on looms with PBS 3-5x and place in clean petri dish •  Thaw cryovial of cells (I prefer 3T3s but have used others) •  Slowly drip cell suspension directly onto textile mesh—if doing a proper scientific experiment, count cells first before seeding •  Ensure that entire mesh has been covered with cell suspension and incubate biotextile @ 37˚C for 15 mins •  Return biotextile to hood and fill petri dish with warmed media, enough to completely cover biotextile (typically 20mL) •  Return biotextile to incubator and leave untouched 2-3 days •  After 2-3 days, feed biotextile as any normal cell culture, always ensuring to completely cover biotextile with fresh media – continue regular feeding cycle •  Dishes will need to be changed approx every 2 weeks – use sterile tweezers to pick up and move loom to new dish •  Biotextiles can be grown for indefinite periods of time


EUCALYPTUS DYE + HISTOLOGY STAIN NOTES: •  This process uses no mordant. Colour produced is a deep, red-brown which stains tissue sections evenly to enhance definition but without targeting specific tissue areas •  Bark was sourced from the E. pipereta (Peppermint Eucalyptus) along the banks of the Swan River, Perth, AUS. Other eucalyptus barks may be used similarly •  Bark is gathered by hand after naturally falling from the trees, not stripped from the living trees •  Produces an odorless, liquid dye/stain •  Traditionally used as a natural textile dye—there are no known histological applications of eucalyptus, though histology traditionally uses many dyes (“stains”) from the textile industry, as well as from natural plant sources (e.g. haematoxylin, henna, etc) •  Eucalyptus dye is non-cytotoxic if prepared as indicated below, and possesses antibacterial properties which may benefit tissue culture •  Gather bark in substantial quantity for one large pot of water— bark falls off naturally in ribbons and can be clustered in bundles of parallel strips •  Break bark bits into smaller pieces to fit into pot. Strips can be layered until full amount has been put into pot •  Fill pot with DH2O to cover bark strips and heat to reach a steady boil •  Simmer 1.5 hours on low heat, stirring occasionally •  Turn off heat completely and allow to sit 24 hrs •  Scoop bark strips from cooled water and discard •  Strain water through paper filters to produce liquid without sediment •  Store refrigerated in sterile, airtight container until ready for use


For staining fixed tissue sections in wax, boil down liquid until very dark. Mix together: •  150mL eucalyptus stain •  1g Sodium iodate (as an oxidizer and catalyst) Mix for 8 hours or O/N •  Add 2mL Ferric Chloride (as mordant) •  Stir until dissolved •  Test on slides for 5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins •  Rinse in H2O •  Blot sections using filter paper •  Dehydrate, clear and coverslip as with other histology staining SEPARATE PROCESS (no oxidizer or mordant) For dying natural fibre scaffold materials (e.g. silk): •  Wet fibres (skeins) by submerging in just enough DH2O to cover fibre, and heat slowly to simmer •  Experiment with dye concentrations on fibre, adding more dye stock until desired colour is reached •  Allow to simmer 30-40 mins •  Remove from heat and allow to cool to RT •  Rinse fibre extremely well in ultrapure H2O (10x) •  Allow to dry in laminar flow hood O/N and store in airtight container or bags until needed •  Before use as biotextile scaffold, sterilize by soaking in EtOH @ 4 mins minimum. Dyed fibre can be stored in EtOH without breaking down


HAPTIC EPISTEMOLOGY-philosophy + methodology


BIOMATERIA is a vital materialist mixed media and digital installation of works. The artworks in Biomateria form an inquiry into the aesthetic, conceptual and practical crossovers between textile techniques, wet biology laboratory practices and micro-ecology. Much of this work specifically comments on the relationship between nonhuman agents (cells) and human technological and creative industry, via the crafting of textile-based forms seeded with live mammalian cell lines*. Through a series of reflections on making and conceptualizing, I propose a methodological strategy and philosophy for thinking around the hybrid works in Biomateria. I call this philosophy, “Haptic Epistemology”.

The process-based and hands-on nature of researchcreation, in addition to the ‘matter’ (physical, political, cultural) of life science praxes, is a core research concern. The works mean to, in addition to craft and aesthetics, explore the variety of nebulous political areas concerned with BioArt: DIY bio/ bio-hacking, ethics, academic bureaucracy and institutionalism, as well as artistic goals, responsibilities and failures. Interdisciplinary practice between art and science, including methodological intersections, current policies, and thinking around the formation of new policies, have been studied as key considerations in both the execution and display of BioArt. I consider economic nuances in relation to labour practices, from a feminist materialist and craft perspective.

The works presented in this exhibition are a combination of actual and representational. Applied science/ technology, enforced institutional bureaucratic indicators, and artistic manipulations/ representations are displayed in tandem. Each following section explores objectives, methodologies, philosophical ideas and a brief historical context situating Biomateria. Section headings refer to specific concerns that arose during the creation of the work.

*For technical or new terms presented in the body of the text, please refer to the glossary provided.



I refer to the live microorganisms used in the work as vital materials, and in addition to this, I imagine the apparatus facilitating those vital materials as also vibrant. I acknowledge the liveliness of electronic technology and its central role in performing the labour of care for the in vitro* ‘life’ forms I present. I mention vitality in alignment with Jane Bennett’s definition: “the capacity of things… not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.”1 The definition of agency as the capacity to act should include, as is often the case, the failure to act. Ascribing anthropomorphic behaviors and activities to microbiological organisms and their technological support, “… can uncover a whole world of resonances and resemblances— sounds and sights that echo and bounce far more than would be possible were the universe to have a hierarchical structure… what appears next is a swarm of “talented” and vibrant materialities… In revealing similiarities across categorical divides and lighting up structural parallels between material forms in “nature” and those in “culture,” anthropomorphism can reveal isomorphisms.”2



Fostering live mammalian tissue growth on handcrafted and aesthetic textile forms speaks to the intersection of hands-on wet biology and craft processes within a variety of frameworks, including material-ity/-ism and nonhuman agency, as well as haptic intelligence, communication, architecture, embodiment and performativity. I will address these concepts in order to lay the groundwork for my working definition of “haptic epistemology”, a method of generating knowledge through hands-on engagement. Craft is a hand process of producing an attractive thing that works/ performs. Its production includes repetitive technique, often to the point of automatic thinking. Craftwork has historically been relegated to the once-lesser realm of ‘the decorative’, ornamentation and domesticity.3 However, décor (embellishment) is a cultural signifier of inhabited architecture.4 Biotechnology borrows terminology from architecture (scaffold, building blocks), just as architecture borrows from textiles in its focus on structural composition. One of my tasks in this project has been to manu-facture (manus, hand-make) and propose predefined structures, intentionally woven with gaps, to a population of microorganisms proliferating in petri dishes. The negative spaces of the structure are small enough to be utilized by individual cells, while also large enough to present a creative challenge. Through their capacity for detection and response, they build structural embellishment, an outer skin, by embodying the scaffold, vitalizing the architecture, inhabiting and carrying out life processes within and on it. Discovering a successful interaction between cell type and scaffold material is a process of haptic epistemology conducted through the cell membranes, as well as through the hand of the artist. The attractiveness of the structures I’ve created may or may not be aesthetic, but for certain is chemical. Natural ‘indicators’ within the fibres used to weave scaffolds can help


determine cellular activity.5 Supporting active cell engagement means maintaining normal cell function while also influencing cell morphology* enough to foster the building of fragile tissue layers on the structure. The choice of scaffold material is critical: it must be non-cytotoxic, and chemically attractive to the specific type of cells to encourage them to adhere and engage with it.6 Another important determinant I discovered is the existence of intersections—points of contact within the structure. The resourcefulness of non-neuronal (supposedly non-thinking) cells is displayed in how they anchor themselves at fibre axes, extend towards each other, communicate through touch and collectively build multicellular bridges within the woven structure. As the bridges widen, the grid becomes the skeleton for new tissue formation. My work means to explore the notion of multiple intelligences and showcase the potential for haptic ‘intelligence’7 or understanding through tactile contact, within a culture of cells in the formation of tissue mass. This isomorphism highlights meaning made of the ‘world’ (or micro-ecology) through proximity, touch and response. The inkling that non-neuronal cells possess a form of intelligence, particularly knowledge generation and communication not far removed from that of humans, changes how we must approach, categorize and work with them. The concept problematizes the instrumentalization of such materials in research-creation, as the instrumentalization of life. Where is the boundary now between life/ nonlife, where life might be defined by ‘intelligence’?



Just as the cell bodies in the biotextiles are self-organizing, so are the electronic supports that maintain their liveliness. Comingled wires and circuits demand a certain assemblage in order to perform their tasks as a whole. Bennett has discussed “the agency of assemblages” with referral to a collective, interdependent “thing-power”. She clarifies that, “…an actant never really acts alone. Its efficacy or agency always depends on the collaboration, cooperation, or interactive interference of many bodies and forces.”8 This distributive agency, as she names it, might serve as a useful framework for thinking through the interdependent cyborg, the conglomerate of the mechanical and the pulpiness that is Incubatrix Neith. The effects of electrons and voltage variables, motors rotating and pumps pumping, sensors sensing, valves opening and closing, temperatures rising and falling, code parsing and the void loop looping, form their own meshwork of vital performance. My own haptic processes in building the programmed appliances (bioreactor/ incubator) that constitute Incubatrix Neith, have been a series of somewhat blind, emergent unfoldings of knowledge, assembled one on top of the other. This process is, “as itself in possession of degrees of agentic capacity.”9 That agentic capacity begins as a haptic epistemological potential, “the kind of potential that originates not in human initiative but instead results from the very disposition of things.”10 This repositioning of creative process is less deterministic or causative, and more receptive/processual/ performative in its generative qualities. It is a material listening and learning through touch, a turning around and over of things until the communication is received and one gains some sense of the matter. In Biomateria, making/contact is a symbiotic activity, a microecological intervention, combining human effort with the innate and often unpredictable design capacities of in vitro, semi-living


organisms. The results are neither planned nor unplanned, but emergent. As Jane Bennett says, “In a world of lively matter, we see that biochemical and biochemical-social systems can sometimes unexpectedly bifurcate or choose developmental paths that could not have been foreseen, for they are governed by an emergent rather than a linear or deterministic causality.”11 It is a creative agency and spontaneous happening that my efforts with cells work to invoke. As the cell types join (or refuse to join) in becoming new integrated ‘wholes’ within the assemblages offered to them, they emerge as new, assisted forms.12 The artificial environment of the biotextile culture, as a closed laboratory system, precludes any notion of autonomy, where autonomy is related to political notions of personhood or even ‘nature’. As synthetic identities, the cell behaviors are artificially triggered and maintained—they would not survive outside the petri dish, and often don’t survive even within those controlled circumstances.



Tissue culture work involves the regular, long-term feeding and maintenance of the cells in culture. This act of chronic commitment includes significant financial, physical, mental and emotional investment. It is a relationship involving numerous forms of labour. In order to continually invest in such a way, one must believe in the merit of the work and in maintaining such a relationship. It is this so-called merit that is questioned, in terms of use for aesthetic purposes (art), by artist/self and audience, other researchers, and governing bodies. Why personally invest in nurturing a monster such as cancer (osteosarcoma), the most feared of all diseases? Likewise, the media used in tissue culture can present equal prompts for social critique—as byproducts of the meat industry, with the additional culturally horrific aspect of the inclusion of fetal material. Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr consider ethics within the frameworks of utilitarianism and animal welfare where it applies to work in the sciences, and as it applies to their own research: “…there is a niche for such a discussion without underlying basic principles of animal welfare… living systems have always affected and intervene with other living beings… humans have always engaged in manipulation of living systems either directly through processes of selective breeding and farming or less directly in ways of hunting, foraging, fishing and altering local ecosystems. Some of these activities have been employed for purely aesthetic and symbolic reasons. Biological artists purposely follow this tradition as a starting point for epistemological and ethical inquiry, particularly in the contemporary context of biotechnological research and production in a consumer driven society.”13 The abjectionable* aspects of cell culture practice go beyond animal welfare and its ethical considerations of pain and suffering, touching on the contested political terrains of


sentience and informed consent. Catts and Zurr refer to relative “gradients of sentiency” and describe their own artworks as “inbetween entities [that] emphasize the continuum of life from nonlife.”14 Bioethical considerations around tissue culture research and consent include the concept of tissue ownership (and potential profit from it). Tissue, once removed, is not legally part or property of the body it came from, in terms of consent, ownership, patenting, or commercialization. Does this make it no longer human, or other? It remains abject due to its disembodied state. This abjection, allegorized most classically in Frankenstein’s monster, plays on our tendency to psychologically distinguish between what we deem living and nonliving. What if psychologically or symbolically, there is no division between a body and its artifacts? In Biomateria, I straddle utilitarianism and negotiate/ignore its set of ethical choices: what I produce is useful. Through a series of controlled experiments, I have determined predictable cell behavior on woven scaffolds, which may have further scientific applications. Does that even matter in art? Should it matter in BioArt, where science methodologies specifically address utilitarian ethics in the treatment of ‘live’ materials? My treatment of ‘live’ materials is grounded in a consideration of bodily autonomy. In this way, my own ethical stance, which I will acknowledge as deriving from the ‘SymbioticA school of thought’, echoes that of Catts and Zurr who specify their works/ entities as a human construct. However, if my body is an intraand interrelated miasma of many bodies/agents, how is selfdetermination conceptualized? Does it, pertaining to bodily control and choice, “presuppose an excessively individualistic conception of autonomy… reduce[d] to the expression of subjective preferences”?15



Still image from lab surveillance feed video, FOFA Gallery, Montreal

Artists provide an interpretation of facts, one fundamentally sociocultural in its impact. The use of BioArt towards this end, “… is a particularly contentious issue, for there is a concern that using imagery and metaphor to communicate science and scientific findings is, although perhaps inevitable, also fraught with the danger of people coming to inaccurate assumptions, understanding and conclusions.”16 The political repercussions of such misinterpretation can be life threatening, or dehumanizing. One historical example of this includes the ‘science’ of physiognomy, where facial features and/or skeletal structure reveal a propensity for criminal behavior, an outward indicator of biological determinism.17 Profiling through representative (subjective) physiognomic portraiture was a precursor to contemporary issues where bioinformatics may be used as incriminating evidence. The ‘criminal’ physiognomic appearance was often described as ‘animalistic’, suggesting a human/animal hybrid, with an out of control, wildish nature. This generalized fear of nature pervades our reactions to contemporary developments in biotechnology, riffed on in pop culture movies and other cultural representations.18 Such fears extend to artists who work in biotech with hybridized or mutated entities. These suspicions, uncertainties and mistrust are explored in works by UK textile and bioartist, Anna Dumitriu. Dumitriu’s project, Trust me, I’m an Artist, aims to: “provide artists, cultural institutions and audiences with the skills to understand the ethical issues that arise in the creation and exhibition of artworks made in collaboration with biotechnology and biomedicine… [and to] provide science and technology collaborators with new ethical frameworks for successfully working with cultural and creative players.”19


Dumitriu’s project highlights a lack of policy and procedure in adequately dealing with works of BioArt. What bioartists can reveal is that ethics are not fixed sets of rules, but sociocultural and shifting, process-based rule sets.



Some scientists, artists, writers and philosophers have decried any conflation of art and science, exclaiming that, “Each is the other’s methodological Antichrist…”20 It is this supposed methodological incompatibility that my work attempts to reconcile by negotiating the methodologies of both through craft as a guiding principle. This includes a patient focus on the principle of nonindustrial production. The imposition of a handcraft process on an aseptic environment, meshing direct engagement of the body with an elaborate system of establishing bodily barriers, provides unique challenges to the act of making. If weaving is meticulous, weaving miniatures under a laminar flow biosafety hood, wearing nitrile gloves and misting every tool with a spray bottle of ethanol for sterility, is painstaking and hazardous: precision is lost, endurance is challenged and touch becomes a complicating factor in the wet weaving* process, with microbial contamination an ever-present risk. The haptic epistemological methodology can be the process of destruction, erasure, and cell death—for the artist, it could mean the epic failure of a deeply invested, months-long project. One may question the necessity of using slowly handmade textile scaffolds versus readily available, commercial fabrics. Procedural difficulties are reflected in the finished weavings, which are imperfect and fragile. Hands-on methodology, materials and end appearance are ultimately core to the concepts of labour, craft, and process. Within an academic context of scheduled output, sitting long hours engrossed in “slow time” (a political temporal downshift) to produce something barely visible challenges academic expectation21 and the art world in general, where bigger… indeed, monumental, is always better. The works conceived in small scale employ the simplest element of the textile process including string/hair, and single filaments,


as a principal element. Working miniature lends itself well to the invisual* world of tissue culture, in keeping within the scale of a petri dish. As experiments in form and function, I have in mind the weavings of American artist, Sheila Hicks, whose loose experiments with texture, form and structure on small, handmade looms served as sketches for her larger architectural installations. Small-scale works invite a feeling of intimacy, where closeness is a requirement to the experience of them. The inability to touch is a tension that exemplifies the strain of intermeshing transitory textiles with vulnerable microorganisms as an artistic/scientific method. The engagement of these frameworks for ‘making’ on the human scale with the life processes of the tissue culture on the microscopic scale is meant to serve as a mirror, as a reference to the polysemic nature of human “culture” and cell “culture”. Polysemic refers to the separate but related meaning of a shared word. The decelerated, deliberate action of hand-making tiny objects is crucial to the shared/mirrored task of material learning and haptic understanding, a shared experience of physicality and its limitations. Vital material does not produce itself according to any schedule other than its own and can be chemically encouraged only so much. One must be content to observe and wait, collect and record data while the work unfolds according to its own impulses, a process that the work, entitled Cosms, references. The ‘push-back’ or return pressure of the vital material speaks to its affectual aspect. In absence of physical touch, affect becomes the site of impact, where what is ‘felt’ is an internal reverberation.



Photo credit: Meghan Moe Beitiks

The methodological mashup of creative textile and strict laboratory practices not only examines the SOPs* (Standard Operating Procedures) of biological work behind restricted institutional access, but also repositions textiles outside its typical quotidian ubiquity, its everydayness and domesticity. Soft, comforting, pleasurable and almost invisible (due to their ubiquity) textiles are transformed in a biology lab into hazardous, untouchable and questionable (even monstrous) items due to their microbial potentialities with regard to biohazard transmission. The use or threat of use of biological and textile materials for the purpose of causing harm22 has given rise to numerous sociocultural taboos and rituals in an attempt to ameliorate superstition and fear, by establishing cultural codes of conduct around our most intimate materials. ‘Contagion magic’ is performed in cultures throughout the world, by witches or witch ‘doctors’ who use a piece of the intended receiver's clothing or body material to generate a desired effect. From an anthropological point of view, magic is distinct from illusory effects that trick or deceive. It is, more properly, an ‘interface’ methodology between human actors and nonhuman, unseen agents.23 Anthropologist Edward Taylor positioned magic as a methodology similar to science in approach, yet distinct in that a causal relationship is not ‘proven’. Magic thus joins the category of religion, where belief substitutes for ‘proof’, functioning as a fulcrum between intuitive and material ways of knowing. Bennett invites us to, “revisit and become temporarily infected by discredited philosophies of nature, risking “the taint of superstition, animism, vitalism, anthropomorphism, and other premodern attitudes.”24 This revisitation is a means of cultivating naiveté, a prerequisite for believing in the vitality of materials. I ascribe these attitudes to a general state of witchiness, where ritual actions are used to coax the agentic forces of things. Coaxing can be understood here as careful manipulation of things into particular shapes or positions, through working their


behavioral (material) tendencies. Following this line of thought, vivoartist Adam Zaretsky asks us to consider the rituals of science and art in the new performances of BioArtists: “As their “sculptures” live and die, often at the whims of the artistic investigator, the personal, nonrepeatable moments take on a ritual air… What new performative rites come out of mixing ethics and aesthetics in the laboratory?”25 Ritual, as a (repetitive) performative practice, takes place under special conditions. Tissue culture is performed exclusively in a Biosafety Level 2 laboratory, with special costume (lab coat, gloves) and following specific protocols formally sanctioned by a governing authority. Common to all ritualized methodologies is the practice of restriction as a form of self-control in the face of an inability to control the ‘forces’ with which one works (cosmological or microbiological). Magical thinking/performing functions as a trade-off.



Photo credit: Carlos Jabbour

Artists in biological laboratories, working to establish new methodologies through loose, unusual or foreign kinds of experimentation can be viewed as contaminants, unwanted and disruptive forces within an established system. This, however, may be seen as democratic reformation whereby a dominant position is challenged. Non-specialist artists, who enter specialized, restricted environments can open doors to shared knowledge. Artists as ‘contaminants’ have been described as “novel collaborations… joyous contaminations in which scientists feel, even if just for a moment, liberated from the rigor of peer review and free to attempt intuitive leaps.”26 This romanticized image of the artist as a free spirit, loosening the constraints of rigid scientific discipline, is a decidedly nonacademic reading of the arts. Such mythologizing discredits artists as serious researchers on par with other professionals, while diminishing creativity in scientific experimentation. I align with the position that artists and scientists are complementary forces, standing to gain insight from the methodologies of the other— methodologies that might be stagnant and can be collaboratively reformed.27 As an artist carrying out a long-term tissue culture practice at Concordia, much pesky begging and borrowing has had to occur in order for any work to be allowed or possible. This isn’t necessarily the fault of any individual, but a systemic and/or cultural norm, including a lack of precedence for such accommodations and a lack of policy for how to proceed. The artist becomes the embodiment of a range of pressing problems, representing blurred boundaries, cultural uncertainties, challenged norms and a growing list of uncomfortable (unfamiliar) requests.



Beyond ethics and its brand of utilitarianism, research dollars within academia reflect a capital industrialist interest in usefulness/profitability. Assigning value to art is nebulous and rocky terrain, largely outside the formulaic path of capitalist market economics, particularly when assessing ‘experimental’ art. A problematic “hybrid frontier”28 reading of art/science possibilities reframes inquiry, curiosity, and openness as conquest. Adam Zaretsky asks the artistic moral question around working in biotech as an artistic practice: “Are our artists slaves to the rhythm of the latest big boom/bust bubble, the biotechnological fad market? …One would hope that there are better reasons to scope out undulating living abstractions than the propping up of market schemes. Is it naïve to think that Aesthetes are not all just echoes of capital-intensive trends?”29 The gist of the contemporary materialist feminism dialectic has been a return to consideration of the materialist substructure of culture and the role of female (community) networks in shaping and maintaining it: the ‘material turn.’30 Recently, artists have taken up the ideologies of the material turn to refer more literally to artistic production. A reexamination of cultural labour by culture workers critiques the role of industry in exploiting material resources and workers employed to construct them into cheap products. The resultant devaluation of cultural products has caused a reaction: the steady popularization of the bespoke movement (a word with a particular reference to textile goods), centred on reclaiming handmade processes and producing oneoffs. Central to the culture of the handmade, is the notion of community, and DIY.



The history of tissue culture and its apparatuses is rooted in maker culture, or what was once ‘make do’ culture and is now trendily coined DIY. Rebecca Skloot describes the laboratory of Dr George Gey, the researcher who developed the first successful tissue culture method in the 1950s: “Gey had built [the incubator room] just like he’d built everything else in the lab: by hand and mostly from junkyard scraps, a skill he’d learned from a lifetime of making do with nothing… he could make nearly anything for cheap or free… he rigged a microscope with a time-lapse motion picture camera to capture live cells on film. It was a Frankenstein mishmash of microscope parts, glass, and 16-millimeter camera equipment from who knows where, plus metal scraps, and old motors… After he graduated, he and Margaret built their first lab in a janitor’s quarters at Hopkins—they spent weeks wiring, painting, plumbing, building counters and cabinets, paying for much of it with their own money.”31 Skloot reports that by the 60s, “The general public could grow [cells] at home using instructions from a Scientific American doit-yourself article…”32 Unfortunately, however, a ‘how-to’ does not necessarily mean ‘can-do’. Presenting tissue culture work as falling within the valuistic bounds of DIY is an irresponsible claim. The lack of funding, and blood-sweat-and-tears efforts of Gey resemble the strain of contemporary bioartists attempting to access and appropriate biotechnology. But without institutional privilege, this work isn’t currently possible.33 The nostalgia of self-sustaining ‘settler’ culture that feeds the hipster/ startup business community puts emphasis on DIY aesthetic: bare, raw, ‘upcycled’ materials, repurposed and rebranded.34 However, the gentrification of DIY can be scrutinized in the move to outsource biotech innovation to smaller scale labourers: culture workers and startups absorb the overhead costs of new knowledge production. Innovation


competitions like iGem valorize youth and tech ingenuity/labour, efforts easily plucked for buyout from the tech industry.35, 36 The work of bioartists, too, has been purchased directly for biotech propaganda/ marketing purposes.37 A key difference between contemporary biohacking and the make-do approach of Gey’s time, is the presence of heavy regulation that bioartists are faced with when handling or presenting potentially biohazardous materials. Robert Mitchell has provided a case study of an artist and science collaborator charged with demeanour and fraud for manipulating laboratory media in unregulated domestic laboratories.38 Following this incident, presenting BioArt in public presents new bureaucratic obstacles, which bioartists negotiate as part of the work. Works presented by Bioteknica (Jennifer Willet + Shawn Bailey),39 similarly to the work within the Tissue Culture and Art Project (Catts + Zurr), include re-creations of laboratory space within a gallery context and the performance of tissue culture practice by nonscientists. Establishing facsimiles of bio labs includes acquisition of certifications and permits, a laborious and time consuming, additionally prohibitive process. The lab in Biomateria, namely The Ossificatorium, although certified, does not attempt to recreate the biological laboratory per se, but replants biohacker/maker space within institutional walls as an almost uncanny absurdity. It references the humbler beginnings of tissue culture, while functioning as a mode of display. Incubatrix Neith, as a hacked laboratory apparatus challenges industrial biotech elitism and advances the goals of the Open Source movement, which challenges the accessibility of the tech industry in general. Transgressing the bounds of specialized technical knowledge and professionalization is the artist’s prerogative, intellectual promiscuity being particularly prevalent in the interdisciplinary artist. Transitioning a museological mode of display to a hands-on or suggestion of hands-on experience within the exhibition, is in line with haptic


epistemology. My subversive stance is not to discredit the relevance of scientific research in the world. Much of my research for this project has been explicitly scientific, cultivating biofluency* and adopting scientific/ biotechnological methodologies as part of the performance of the work. It is my aim, instead, to “stay with the trouble�.40


REFERENCES + NOTES 1. Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter; A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010. pviii 2. Ibid., p99 3. A good resource for entry into this discussion is Rozsika Parker’s book, The Subversive Stitch; Embroidery and the making of the feminine (Routledge NY, 1989). 4. Schneider, Birgit. Caught in the Tangle of the Net; On a History of the Network Metaphor in Art & Textiles; Fabric as Material and Concept in Modern Art from Klimt to the Present (Brüderlin, Markus, ed.). Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg/ Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 2014. 5. Understanding material chemical communication has assisted biomedicine in developing efficient systems of human tissue repair: Silk and cellulose biologically effective for use in stem cell cartilage repair. ScienceDaily, University of Bristol. May 7, 2013. 2013/05/130507124811.htm “Both cellulose and silk and commonly used in textiles but the researchers demonstrated an unexpected use for the two natural polymers when mixed with stem cells. The team treated blends of silk and cellulose for use as a tiny scaffold that allows adult connective tissue stem cells to form into preliminary form of chondrocytes—the cells that make healthy tissue cartilage— and secrete extracellular matrix similar to natural cartilage.” 6. This includes a consideration of protein or cellulose content, fibre strand texture, durability within specific temperatures and pH conditions, tension within the woven structure, and suspension (placement) within the culture media. For example, stiffness is prerequisite to cell adhesion to a surface: early experiments with growing cells on contact lenses failed due to the lenses’ level of flexibility. Each failure and success is an individual chapter of knowledge, information gathered and used,


becoming applied knowledge/art. Through my research, I have observed a certain predilection in 3T3 connective tissue cells towards protein fibres. They grow exceedingly well on woven human hair, musical instrument-grade horsehair and gut-derived, collagen-based surgical suture threads, as well as on decellularized* tissue. Conversely, human osteosarcoma (bone cancer) cells respond relatively poorly to protein fibres, seeming to prefer cellulose, adhering to and proliferating more efficiently on the torn edges of watercolour paper scraps and my handspun linen weaving, over other scaffold materials. 7. I refer to haptic in terms of its most basic meaning: involving touch or physical contact. I also understand this sense to involve proprioception. 8. Bennett, p21 9. Ibid., p33 10. Ibid., p35 11. Ibid., p112 12. I call these transmutations fibresarcomas*, fabristromas* and seriskins* 13. Zurr, Ionat and Oron Catts. The ethical claims of Bio Art: killing the other or self-cannibalism? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art: Art & Ethics Vol 4, Number 2, 2003, and Vol. 5, Number 1, 2004. pp.167–188. *My copy downloaded from the artists’ website: http://, Reference p6. 14. Zurr, p7 [emphasis is mine] 15. Mackenzie, Catriona. Conceptions of Autonomy and Conceptions of the Body in Bioethics in Feminist Bioethics; At the Centre, on the Margins (Jackie Leach Scully et al, eds.) The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2010. pp 71 – 90.


16. Shah, Jai. What are Metaphors For? in Imagining Science; Art, Science and Social Change. (Caufield, Sean and Timothy Caufield, eds.) University of Alberta Press, 2008. p78. 17. Physiognomy was a particular fascination for the painter, Edgar Degas. His seemingly innocuous (beautiful) paintings, sketches and sculptures of ballet girls have a deeper, darker element: they meant to portray some innate degenerate behavioral characteristic (prostitution)—ballet girls in Degas’ era were young, underprivileged women working at night, performing for an evening audience and accepting favours from patrons. 18. For example, the Canadian film, Splice (2009), is a story where genetic engineers, who suspiciously resemble bioartists, secretly engineer and incubate a human/animal hybrid. The creature gets loose from the lab, incurs a gender transition, becomes unpredictably predatory and wreaks havoc, leading to the death of certain characters, including a beloved (domesticated) pet cat. Splice not only sensationalizes fears around biotechnology and gender ambiguity, but also dramatizes suspicion towards the ethical responsibility of scientists (and artists) engaged in human biological experimentation, and the pitfalls of human nature in general. Humans are clearly not to be trusted. 19. Excerpted from the artist’s website, under the Trust Me, I’m an Artist project heading: 20. Strauss, Stephen. Ain’t Dat-a Beauty in Imagining Science; Art, Science, and Social Change. (Caufield, Sean and Timothy Caufield, eds.). The University of Alberta Press, 2008. p86. 21. Ideas inspired by the following text: Mountz, Alison et al. For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.


Forthcoming in ACME, International E-journal for Critical Geographies. 22. This unsettling reality is not historically unique. One need only to recollect the use of smallpox blankets in the colonization of North America, to understand a culturally nefarious relationship between textiles as carrier of biohazardous affects/ effects. 23. Stein Frankle, Rebecca L and Philip L Stein. Magic and Divination in Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft. Allyn & Bacon, 2005. p136 24. Bennett, p18 25. Zaretsky, Adam. Birdland; Avian Developmental Embryology Arts Project in Imagining Science; Art, Science and Social Change (Caulfield, Shawn and Timothy Caulfield, eds.), University of Alberta Press, 2008. pp 15-18 26. Antonelli, Paola. Vital Design (foreword) in BioDesign; Nature, Science, Creativity (William Myers, ed.). MoMA NY/ Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2012. p4 27. This idea of stagnating methodologies and the invigoration of methodological intermeshing is explored in a paper by Dr Tagny Duff, entitled, Mangling Methodologies across performance research, biological arts and the life sciences. Publication forthcoming in Media-N journal, Hexagram-Concordia, Montreal, 2015. 28. Myers, William. The Hybrid Frontier in BioDesign; Nature, Science, Creativity (William Myers, ed.). MoMA NY/ Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2012. p8 29. Text excerpt from the artist’s website, under the project, VivaVivo!: 30. Here I refer specifically to ideas laid out in the following paper: Jackson, Stevi. Why a Materialist Feminism is (Still) Possible—and Necessary. Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 24, No. 3/4, 2001. pp283–293.


31. Skloot, pp37-39. 32. Ibid., p137. 33. HEXA_OUT 9 : CONSUMING LIFE; An evening of debate & discussion & tastings. October 14, 2014. UQAM, Pavilion Cœur des sciences Salle polyvalente. Organized by Hexagram. With panellists Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, David Szanto, Thierry Bardini and Mohammed Ashour. Indeed, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, best known for transforming tissue culture into an artistic practice, have asserted that they do not believe in DIY tissue culture. During this event, I asked Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr when they imagined tissue engineering might become a DIY domestic activity. Catts asserted that he didn’t think this would ever happen because such biotechnology is too expensive and will remain inaccessible to a lay public. However, he and Zurr went on to outline various forms of kitchen science, such as culturing yogurt, fermenting alcohol, etc. that already exist as truer DIY alternatives. 34. This phenomenon has been written about fairly extensively, such as by Al Jazeera and The Economist, with arguments being made for and against. 35. My thinking around this was greatly influenced by ideas presented by Alessandro Delfanti during the panel entitled, Art and Science in the Age of Biopolitics, as part of MUTEK_IMG co-presented by the Phi Centre and Eastern Bloc, Montreal, October 3, 2015. 36. Likewise, DIY styles are appropriated by biotech to make their outputs more publicly palatable. One such example of appropriation is the new term for creating genetically modified


food industry products: “re-wilding”. This rebranding might appeal nicely to DIY urban ecowarriors interested in ‘wildcrafted’ or foraged local food sources outside of the grocery store/ food industry. Source: http:// 37. For an example of this, see the 2015 initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote (their) vaccine use. 38. Mitchell, Robert. The Three Eras of Vitalist Bioart in Bioart and the Vitality of Media. University of Washington Press, 2010. pp48-51. 39. LiveLifeLab, 2007, FOFA Gallery, Montreal, QC. 40. As Donna Haraway has encouraged, in her lecture, SF: String Figures, Multispecies Muddles, Staying with the Trouble. University of Alberta, 2013. Z1uTVnhIHS8


GLOSSARY OF TECHNICAL + NEW TERMS Technical: ASEPSIS A state of sterilization meant to prevent microbial contamination of an environment. Some biologists do not believe that asepsis is truly possible. I refer to ‘emotional asepsis’, with this understanding – that preventing affectual contamination of work with microorganisms or other entities likely isn’t truly possible, either. IN VITRO Literally, “within glass”. Refers to biological materials grown or growing in a contained vessel (which is typically now made of plastic). In vitro is distinct from in vivo. Counter to bodily autonomy, in vitro is a controlled environment outside of which the contained materials might not thrive. IN VIVO Literally, “within the living”. Refers to biological materials grown or growing in a living organism. Also can indicate bodily autonomy (though not necessarily – e.g. an undeveloped fetus). CELL LINE(S) An isolated cell type (commercially) available for use, for scientific research only. Cell lines are a population of cells that have been derived from a single cell and contain all the same genetic material, are maintained in vitro or cryogenically, and due to a


mutation can undergo cell division indefinitely (are “immortalized”). A database of established cell lines is available from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), and can be purchased through a number of different biotech companies. Typically, however, researchers will trade their surplus of cultured cell lines for free, amongst themselves or between labs, in order to reduce costs. CELL CULTURE The practice of growing cells in vitro. Typically cell culture practice refers to the growth of mammalian cells, versus plant or insect cells. TISSUE CULTURE Like cell culture, tissue culture is the practice of growing mammalian tissue material (from cells) in vitro. Cells are isolated from an organism and grown under controlled conditions into tissue samples. CULTURE MEDIA A liquid nutrient solution containing specific percentages of Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM), antibiotics, fetal calf serum, glucose and other chemical substances, used to maintain a live cell/tissue culture. Culture media is usually bright pink, due to a phenol red pH indicator dye used. MITOSIS The process of cell division. CELL MORPHOLOGY Cell morphology is the shape and appearance of the cell, and fits within three distinct categories: fibroblastic (stretchy and


adherent), epithelial-like (polygonal and clustered, adherent), and lymphoblast-like (spherical and non-adherent, or suspended). Neuronal cells have different morphologies. Cell morphology is changeable (a process called cell differentiation) via chemical signaling, substrate stiffness and other factors. DECELLULARIZE(D) A laboratory process of chemically removing all indigenous cells from the collagen or cellulose substructure they adhere to. Once cells are removed, the collagen or cellulose matrix can be repopulated/recolonized with other living cells to produce new living tissue or even entire organs. TISSUE ENGINEERING Incorporating the use of biomaterial scaffolds or substrates that cells will form tissue on, three-dimensionally, versus in a monolayer on the bottom of a petri dish. Tissue engineering is typically utilized for biomedical repair/replacement purposes, such as skin or bone grafts or even to grow whole, functioning organs for in vivo implantation. ‘Textile’ scaffolds have been used but typically in the form of nonwoven meshes or knit forms. Tissue engineering is a field still very much in the experimental development phase. 3T3s A mouse-derived fibroblastic cell line also known as MC 3T3. 3T3s are commonly known as connective tissue cells, and hold together or separate/cover other tissue types such as muscle and nerves. U-2 OS/ SAOS-2 U-2 OS and SOAS-2 are both human osteosarcoma (bone


cancer) cell lines. They are different cell lines of a similar type, sourced from two different human donors. My observations and experiences with these cell types is that they differentiate extremely quickly and undergo rapid mitosis but coherent tissue (sarcoma) formation is incredibly slow. I have seen that U-2 OS will form a loose (insubstantial) bone matrix on the surface of a petri dish or flask, over a period of months. SOPs Standard operating procedures. An SOP document is a required document that outlines all methods, materials and conduct allowed within a specific laboratory context. Anything outside of the SOP document is considered unauthorized use of the laboratory. SOPs must be reviewed and approved by Environmental Health and Safety in accordance with its guidelines, and a copy of the SOP must remain on site in the laboratory at all times. New terms: HAPTIC EPISTEMOLOGY The generation of knowledge, both individual and collective, through textural engagement with an environment or concept via the sense of touch. Includes, for example, “hands-on” making (research-creation) in human culture, as well as membranous contact between micro-entities, such as between cells in culture. Touch as communication, where haptic communication contributes to greater material knowing and affective understanding. OMNIPHILIC Meant to refer to a microorganism or microorganisms that thrive


indiscriminately in all manner of host bodies—regardless of age, gender, species, etc. – for example, cancer. INVISUAL (ART) Referring specifically to forms of “visual” art that are in fact research-based creative projects or “anti-art” presented in a visual art context. This is particularly applicable to forms of BioArt where microscopic entities are the primary (co)actants in the creation of the work, and where the true creative objects remain microscopic or not visible to the naked human eye. Invisual art employs presentation devices such as the laboratory apparatus and/or new media to frame or present related visual content in order to enhance the understanding of the project. ABJECTIONABLE A term that riffs on Kristeva’s articulation of the ‘abject’. In this case, abjectionable refers to bodily materials, content, etc (especially in an art context) that is so culturally offensive in its abjectness that it becomes highly objectionable – for example, fetal material. WET WEAVING A process developed in a laboratory, during the Biomateria research project, whereby textile materials/ fibre stuffs are stored in fluid and manipulated while soaked. Fibre materials are first immersed in ethanol for a period of time (hours, days or weeks) in order to induce and maintain sterilization. Throughout the actual weaving process, carried out under a laminar flow hood, the weaving materials are kept drenched with ethanol, and later rinsed with phosphate buffer solution to prepare them for in vitro use. The entire life span of the textile is within a wet ecology, including later immersion in cell culture media as an engineered


scaffold for the cells, to eventual ‘fixing’ in paraformaldehyde once the research/experiment has concluded and the biotextile must be preserved. Interestingly, while wet weaving has no real precedent in textile production, wet manipulation does. Wet spinning is the production of linen thread, where the spinster’s saliva is used to both control dust as well as to assist the fibres in sticking together in yarn form. In addition to this, linen is prepared for spinning through a process of ‘retting’ whereby the plant material is allowed to soak in water long enough for a specific strain of bacteria to rot/break the fibres down and make them usable. Similarly, post-spinning, all fibres are wet down in order to ‘relax’ them into the new twisted form, and set the spin so that the yarn does not unspin itself when no longer under tension. Fibre dyeing and other forms of preparation also include prolonged liquid immersion. FIBRESARCOMA Significant cancer tissue growth on a textile fibre scaffold. Fibresarcoma appears in my experiments to happen more readily on cellulose-based fibres than protein-based fibres. FABRISTROMA Conjoining the words fabricate (constructed) and stroma (connective tissue matrix). Refers to a constructed connective tissue matrix, constructed by both human and microorganic efforts together. SERISKIN A layer of connective tissue grown over a silk fibre scaffold. This is more metaphorical than biologically accurate, as connective tissue is not ‘skin’ or epidermis – in this case,


‘skin’ means outer covering. POESS To confess or otherwise confide strong emotion/belief through committing acts of poetry. INTERDIGITATIONS The broad implications of the relationship between ‘hand’ and ‘technology’, literally referencing the etymological origins of the word, ‘digital’ as related to ‘digits’, or the fingers of the hand in addition to numeric, or binary coding. We learn to count on our fingers. Fingers represent numbers and numeric combinations in an embodied mathematic code. Likewise, the handmade and digital intersect in some technologically assisted hand-making practices, such as mechanized Jacquard weaving where binary is expressed via the programmed intersection of threads moving either up (on) or down (off) while the hand of the maker also intersects with the movements. Also, by extension, the conflation/ comparison of the haptic activities of one organism with those of another, where touch is a form of sensing/ collecting data. BIOFLUENCY Developing an applied familiarity with cell forms (developing a cell vocabulary), their behaviors and the ‘look’ of their microscopic ecologies, in addition to acquiring a workable knowledge of science/biology jargon. Additionally, building a kinesthetic knowledge of laboratory practice to the point of ease with performing the processes, including the wearing of a lab coat no longer seeming a novelty. Can include adopting


scientific methodologies, such as hypothesis, observation, reproducibility of experiments, and data collection, in addition to successfully merging these methodologies with methodologies from other disciplines.




LIST OF WORKS + DESCRIPTIONS Sonya + Osanna (SAOS-2 + U-2 OS), after William Gale Gedney, 2015 Silk and cotton yarns. Handwoven CMYK Jacquard cloth, including process samples. 46cm x 76cm x 1cm, not including process samples.

Sonya + Osanna is an image-based woven representation of an original photograph by American artist, William Gale Gedney. Gedney’s image, entitled, Two girls with dirty clothes holding hands (1964) is a black and white photograph of two (pre)pubescent girls of rural Kentucky. I selected this image to represent the two unnamed individuals from whom osteosarcoma cell types U-2 OS and SAOS-2 were biopsied. All that is known about these individuals is that they were 11 and 15 year-old, Caucasian females, and that tissue/cell samples were taken from them in 1973 and 1964, respectively. It is likely that they were tall girls, given the highest incidence of osteosarcoma in the shinbones of (pre)teen girls undergoing rapid growth spurts. It is not known or stated whether these individuals or their families gave consent to have their bodily materials sampled, cultured and grown for scientific purposes. The human names I have assigned each of these cell lines are based on my understanding of early cell-type naming practices, where a coded abbreviation of the donor’s name was used. In this case, the OS stands for osteo (bone) but I have fabricated girls’ names based on OS regardless. CMYK Jacquard weaving is an advanced, computerized loom weaving technique, where each pixel of an image corresponds to an independently controlled, coloured thread. The warp consists of 6 colours: red, yellow, blue, green, black and white. Through this technique, it is possible to render colour images as cloth structure (not just as surface treatment). In my design, colour


structure has been added to the dresses of the girls, to highlighta gendered material code that signifies them, similarly to how Gedney titled his original photograph. Colour is expressed in the weaving through optical mixing, by designing complex structures that strategically raise or lower specific thread combinations while also maintaining the structural integrity of the cloth. In this way, Sonya + Osanna have been digitalized and (re)materialized. Metamaterial or Tissu/Tissage, 2015 Cotton yarns. Handwoven Jacquard cloth. 160cm x 104cm

Metamaterial is a woven, Jacquard cloth interpretation of a digital micrograph. The micrograph represents 16 weeks of live connective tissue growth on a biotextile I engineered at SymbioticA. The image was captured during live cell imaging by collaborator, Guy Ben-Ary, who maintained the biotextile at CELLCentral lab (UWA) for a number of weeks on my behalf. The magnification of this micrograph, expanded and materialized at human scale, highlights its relationship with ‘body’ and ‘covering’ while also functioning as a weaving about the subject of woven structure as multiplicious matrix. The Jacquard weaving is double-sided, presenting a positive of the image on one side and a negative on the other. The Ossificatorium, 2015 Site-specific Biosafety Level II laboratory. Includes biosafety certifications of laboratory users, biohazard permit, lab coats, nitrile gloves, goggles, shelving, fixed tissue culture/ biotextile specimens, laboratory fridge with culture media and falcon tubes of wet biomaterials, as well as Incubatrix Neith and incubator log


sheets filled daily by gallery staff. Dimensions variable. The Ossificatorium highlights the overzealous institutional risk assessment that occurs when biomaterials are used onsite in a gallery. This risk assessment, meant to mitigate biohazards from occurring in the workplace, is arguably more based on strict insurance carrier requirements than an actual probability of risk. However, it may also reflect social norms with regards to risk perception, and social (moral) codes about the body. The Ossificatorium is an official biosafety space within the gallery but separate from it, where public fear of contagion (though none of the materials used are contagious) is assuaged by the presence of PPE (personal protective equipment that provides bodily barriers), an impression of sterility and containment, as well as full institutional regulation/ approval. The performed role of gallery staff in regularly monitoring and maintaining the functioning of Incubatrix Neith is a disruption in the artist/gallery relationship. Gallery staff are heavily implicated in the labour of care (which is part of the artwork) and survival of the vital material inside the incubator. Incubatrix Neith, 2015 Sheet acrylic profile, DIY electronics with Arduino including various sensors, hardware and open source code, Sugru, CO2 tank and full apparatus (tank regulator, tubing, flow regulator), DIY bioreactor with flask and peristaltic pumps, biotextiles on scaffolding with live connective tissue in vitro, cell culture media, various found materials. 38.5cm x 40cm x 41cm, contained incubator unit only, not including CO2 apparatus. Includes live feed microscopic digital video and monitor display. Dimensions variable.


Includes hand-built, recycled wood workbench designed and constructed by Carlos Jabbour. 46cm x 84cm x 91cm Incubatrix Neith is a functional electronic laboratory appliance set (incubator + bioreactor). Both incubator and bioreactor are apparatuses for maintaining the viability of the biotextiles held within, operating as a complete support system that provides the necessary atmospheric and physical conditions for mammalian cellular ‘life’. Those conditions include a stable (body) temperature of 37˚C, 5% CO2 to buffer the pH levels of fluids, purified nutrients, preventative antibiotics, low light, humidity and all of the infrastructural electronic signaling that adjusts any variable in order to maintain the required equilibrium. The peristaltic pump system, which feeds nutrients in and siphons waste materials out, is a biomimesis of the functioning of the gastrointestinal system (peristalsis). The title of the work references the Egyptian goddess, Neith, who weaves the matrix of reality each day. She is a parthenogenetic maternal deity of creation and re-creation. Another version of her name, Net, directly connotes textile methods and objects, as well as the more contemporary reference to digital technology. The hieroglyph of her name includes the symbol of a loom. Naming the appliance as I did mimics industrial mechanism branding, where old world deities or archaic language representing the celestial are used to denote the superhuman powers of technology that enhance human life (e.g. Zenith, Nike, Electra, Eos, Nova, Apollo, etc). Incubatrix Neith contains Biotextile n=x, a vital textile created with a mash-up of low-tech traditional methods and high-tech materials/ methods. The loom used to create the biotextile was 3D-printed in miniature scale at the Pelling Lab, using polylactic acid (PLA), a cell-friendly, biodegradable thermoplastic derived


from plant starch, and which promotes tissue growth. However, the loom design itself, an open source design file found on Thingiverse, is that of a traditional, basic frame loom that children often use to learn to weave. The woven material on the loom is structurally a plain weave, the most fundamental woven structure. Biotextile n=x is a constructed human/nonhuman microbiological system growing in response to and protected by its managed environment—managed by both the automated vessel, Incubatrix Neith and myself/my collaborators. In addition to this, Biotextile n=x ignores conventional scientific research rules. Normally, a researcher must not work with self-sourced bodily materials in order to avoid possible self-contamination via bio-matter that is familiar enough to bypass immune response. This particular weaving is done with my own hair, which initially does not pose a threat to me because it is considered ‘dead’ matter, but this life/death material boundary is now blurred as it has been activated by nonhuman cell forms that have taken it over and integrated it into their own ‘bodies’. Its zoonotic potential is unknown. It’s ritualistic potential is contagion magic. Finally, Incubatrix Neith is a containment strategy. Its promise is to prevent leakiness of wet bodily (biohazardous) materials. As an electronic ‘body’ for sterile containment of risky ‘live’ forms, Incubatrix Neith must not leak. Sonata for Dendrites, 2015 DIY electronic Arduino .wav shield containing recorded improvisational electrochemical transmissions created via DIY electrochemical production apparatus, headphones. 4cm x 6.25cm x 6.5cm, without headphones. Audio: 12:37 minutes, repetitive duration.

Electrochemical transmissions are the bioenergetic communications of cellular bodies and environments, particularly


of neurons. The electrochemical improv “music” captured in the recording was generated by passing a 9V current through a magnesium sulfate solution. Various tones and wave modulations were created by changing current variables, through the physical manipulation of a DIY circuit board while it was plugged in to the liquid solution. This music is then played back in a continuous loop on a DIY audio player. The audio is not pleasurable, but a stripped down mediation of a biochemical process. Bibliographic, 2015 Site-specific installation of bibliographic research materials (library books, personal books, other texts), table, chairs. Includes Aseptic Requiem on iPad and artist book, Biomateria; Biotextile Craft. Dimensions variable.

Bibliographic is a research station offered to gallery visitors for consideration, perusal and personal use. Materials include a takeaway copy of the artists’ annotated bibliography for those interested in picking up the thread of inquiry. Bibliographic emphasizes the role of research in the process of researchcreation, not just through hands on making but including rigorous academic bibliographical research. In this way, the role of reading and writing is positioned as central to the understanding of the art conception and production, while offering the process as an interactive and collaborative method (I borrow ideas). Aseptic Requiem, 2014 Digital video with subtitles on iPad, headphones. 2:58 minutes

Aseptic Requiem presents a repetitive looping, stop-motion video of live 3T3 cellular interaction with a single silk fibre over a 24-hour period. This video was captured in the Live Cell Imaging Suite at CELLCentral (UWA) with the guidance and assistance of Guy Ben-Ary. Aseptic Requiem contains subtitled text of a new scientific protocol for compassionate disposal of in vitro organisms, as a comment on the emotional asepsis that may permeate scientific culture. This protocol was developed to address the inherent process of ending ‘life’ (or semi-life) when inactivating microorganisms used in scientific/artistic research projects and experiments. Aseptic Requiem acknowledges the agency of the microorganisms within the research, bringing to the attention of the viewer the implications of working with viable biological materials. Signage/ Enseigne, 2015 Adhesive vinyl biohazard warning sign, and digitally printed biohazard warning sign on silk (dress/ performance). Dimensions variable. 62cm x 82cm, vinyl sign only.

Signage/ Enseigne magnifies institutional bureaucracy around use of biological based materials while also highlighting the inherent biohazardous nature of the human body. It also exploits the idea of ‘artist as contaminant’ in its performance/ artifact of performance aspect. Signage indicates a pairing, more than one sign. Enseigne, the French-version word with multiple meanings, references the relationship between signifier and signified (Saussure). In this case, the signifier is the adhesive vinyl sign, while the signified is the bodily reference made literal in the garment version of the sign.


An Esthetics of Disappointment, 2015 Site-specific vinyl adhesive lettering, text excerpt from An Esthetics of Disappointment (c. 1966) in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (Jack Flam, ed.). 1996: University of California Press. *presented for this exhibition exclusively, with permission from VAGA on behalf of the Holt-Smithson Foundation. Approx. 61cm x 91cm This short essay was written, “On the occasion of the art and technology show at the Armory.” In the full text, Smithson deplores that, “…everything electrical and mechanical was buried under various esthetic mutations. The energy of technology was smothered and dimmed.” The excerpt I chose to include in Biomateria is placed in a new context, but one that resonates with Smithson’s original disdain: that of the disappointment of viewing biotechnological works presented within a visual art/ gallery format. This format somewhat negates the temporal aspect of the works (in the static environment of the gallery), the vital or ‘living’ aspect of the works, in addition to the interactivity of the process-based nature of maintaining the work. The spectacle of science, amplified by pop culture media (the Internet), falls flat on its face in presenting microscopic live works as themselves, as works of art. Audience disappointment, where art world monumentalism is expected, may be palpable as everyone thinks to himself or herself, “Is that it?” In such a case, the apparatus in which the work is presented becomes critical to the content of the work, where microorganisms cannot truly be seen, heard, felt nor sensed in any tangible way. Additionally, inclusion of this text is a nod to Smithson, a wellknown land artist, working in a genre that arguably presents some of the first ‘BioArt’, its actions of human intervention in biological living systems and the ethical (environmental) considerations that arose from those actions.


Field Investigation, 2015 Site-specific, live surveillance feed of The Ossificatorium, organized in collaboration with FOFA Gallery. Special thanks to Jennifer Dorner and Stephan Schulz. Recorded for future use. Dimensions variable. Audience interference/play with Incubatrix Neith could kill the artwork. Aside from this very real need to monitor (survey) activities within the pop-up laboratory, Field Investigation is also an ethnographic experiment. This ethnographic surveillance nods to the work presented by Tristan Matheson in the Biomateria + Contagious Matters exhibition while also referring to the act of monitoring micro-ecologies as one of the prominent activities of tissue culture work. In this installation, upon entering the gallery, visitors are presented with a live video feed on a monitor, of activities not yet understandable. People in lab coats appear to be moving around a space containing an apparatus and workstation. The activity could be taking place anywhere, but is typically understood to happen in a place where members of the public do not have access. Once visitors enter the gallery and find their way to the lab, don lab coats and begin exploring the contents presented to them, they will recognize that just as they were voyeurs at the gallery entrance, they are now the ‘specimens’ being watched. Cosms, 2015 Digitally printed iPhone micrographs on silk, embroidery hoops, .gif animations. Dimensions variable, repetitive duration. Approx. 36cm x 36cm x 1cm each.

Cosms are images of various cell culture experiments captured via iPhone lens pointed through a microscope lens. The various


osteosarcoma and connective tissue cell cultures represent microecologies that I became familiarized with in the process of engineering the biotextiles. Each microecology is a universe unto itself, displaying an easy association between macro and microcosm. The .gif animations are a series representative of the laboratory method used so extensively in tissue culture: microscopic observation, a process repeated every two days, indefinitely. This observation practice is necessary not only for maintaining the health of the culture, but for building a cell vocabulary and moving towards biofluency in research. The jerky composition of the .gif mode imitates eye movement through the microscope and animates/overlays the static images in the digital prints, with static breaks in between the movements. This references the animation and subsequent ‘fixing’ of cell culture experiments. Instruments (diptych), 2015 Anodized aluminum, laser etched. 25cm x 25cm each

Instruments are specifically: a bone saw borrowed from the university morgue and a stylish pipette gun. Both the bone saw and the pipette gun were the actual tools I used for tissue culture while at SymbioticA. The saw and gun conjure images of dissembling bodies and of death, both required components of the ‘live’ tissue culture work I performed. Biohacking may be a double entendre. Process Portrait, 2014 Paper, ink, highlighter marker. 260.5cm x 155cm


Process Portrait is a series of 121 lab cards arranged in a grid, that contain an archive of 15 weeks’ worth of tissue culture experiments, development of new protocols and a record of project mentors and collaborators.


RESOURCES TISSUE CULTURE SUPPLIES Wisent Bioproducts (Canadian – Quebec-based) *I’ve ordered many times from Wisent – you do need to have a certified lab (such as a university lab) to vouch for you if ordering yourself. They accept credit cards, and will give academic discounts. Browse the product index on their website and phone in to order supplies. * Unfortunately, they do not sell PBS tablets so that you can make your own PBS – you have to buy it already premade. *Wisent carries other supplier products. ELECTRONICS Adafruit Industries (US-based) *I can’t say enough good things about Adafruit. Excellent customer service, huge selection, good prices, help forums and many tutorials to get you going. Expensive shipping costs to Canada, though.

Brainy Bits (Canadian – Quebec-based) *Brainy Bits has a smaller selection of products than larger electronics suppliers, but they have the BEST printed circuit board (PCB) risers (feet you can screw onto your PBCs in order to lift them up off a surface or mount them to something). Brainy Bits is the ONLY supplier of these most excellent PCB risers, and they’re really cheap. I order a large number at a time:

MORE ELECTRONICS Robotshop (North American) *Robotshop has outlets in both the US and Canada, so shipping within Canada is reasonably priced. I look for Adafruit products on Robotshop’s website and buy them there if I can.

Sugru (US-based) *This is not a supplier but a wonder product that will make your DIY life so much better. Sugru is a putty (they have a ton of colours) that cures overnight into a flexible rubber. Oh, yes. I will never build electronic appliances again without it. HARDWARE, ETC *I’ve shopped for electronics/device hardware at Rona, Canadian Tire, The Source, plumbing stores, homebrew stores, mushroom stores, etc. Some of my faves in Montreal:

Choppe à Barrock (Canadian – Montreal-based) *Awesome little homebrew store, with an especially helpful owner – I’ve gotten incubator supplies and bioreactor supplies here: rubber stoppers, tubing, CO2 regulator, flasks, etc.

Mycoboutique (Canadian – Montreal-based) *All things mushroom and fungus! Normally tissue culture does not like fungus, but great supplies for all of your BioArt needs.


WhiteFeather is a Canadian artist/researcher, educator, consultant and writer currently based in Montreal. She has been professionally engaged in a craft-based BioArt practice for over 14 years, via material investigations of the functional, artistic and technological (future) potential of bodily materials. WhiteFeather’s work has ranged widely, from the utilization of human hair in traditional textile techniques, to rogue taxidermy soft sculptures of found flesh and bone, to digital/ pop culture representations of the body absent in the technological world.

Her current focus, spanning the last three years and encompassing three different laboratory-based artist research residencies, is on biotextile experimentation and creation of new, aestheticized vital specimens through hands-on tissue engineering. This includes hacking laboratory apparatuses as part of the materiality of the work.

WhiteFeather is a multiple-award winner, and holds an MFA in Fibres and Material Practices. She has shown and performed work in solo, group and collaborative exhibitions in Canada, the US and Australia, been featured in magazines, newspapers, hardcover art books and television spotlights, and saw her work go viral with 5+ million hits in 3 days, via reddit front page.

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