Photos: Decomposing finger, human fetuses make up part of Oss museum's bio-art exhibit
Museum Jan Cunen in Oss is hosting an out-of-the-ordinary exhibition. Live and Let Live is made up of bio-art, consisting of living materials, including controversial work like Martin uit den Bogaard's Painting and Singing Finger, a 2004 piece comprised in part of a decomposing finger, and Ani Liu's 2022 piece, The Surrogacy, Bodies are not Factories. The latter is meant to depict "a pig uterus that is pregnant with human fetuses" to raise discussion about the ethics of using humans and livestock for the purpose of surrogacy, the artist said on her website.
“We quickly consider something to be dirty or waste, but it is often not,” the museum’s press officer Annemarie Baaijens said to Editie NL. Everything that dies can produce something new. “The decomposition process generates energy. That is as old as nature.” In the museum, that energy is converted into sound. “Actually, there is no difference with, for example, an autumn leaf that decays. That provides nutrients that other organisms can live on again.”
She told NL Times that people who visit the museum exhibit should not simply focus on the shock value of it. Baaijens instead wants the art to be considered in a broader context. The museum is based in Oss, and noted that another Oss organization, Organon, was among the first to produce insulin in 1923, and birth control pills in 1962. The company was created by meat producer Saal van Zwanenberg 100 years ago when it tried to decide what to do with the pancreas organs from the animals they slaughtered. That led to their development of insulin.
The freedom utilized by that company when creating insulin, is the same the artists use when making the artwork used in the exhibit, the museum said. One featured artist, Jalila Essaïdi, shows off her piece called Mestic, which features five beakers of manure as it is converted into bioplastic. A decade ago, the artist created, Bulletproof Skin, depicts in vitro human skin reinforced with spider silk that can theoretically stop a bullet shot by a .22 calibre rifle. "Increased exposure to violence through news and other sources of (social)media manipulate our feeling of safety. Giving rise to a culture of fear," the artist said on her website.
Artist Martin uit den Bogaard's Painting and Singing Finger uses the electric signals created by a decaying finger to produce sounds and computer images. He received the finger he used for his piece from a friend who lost it in an accident. Hospitals don’t just give up body parts, so they first had to convince an ethics committee. “They said: if the patient has no objection and the surgeon gives permission, then it’s allowed,” Uit ten Boorgaard said.
Uit den Boogaard has been working with living materials for some time. He notices that not everyone reacts enthusiastically to his bio-artworks. “This form of art is very sensitive. Someone who has had a miscarriage found my work much too confrontational. But art should question things. I find the ethical issue interesting.”
The museum hopes that the exhibition will make people think, Baaijens said. “There are crazy leaps and bounds, but you start to wonder: could it work that way? And sometimes what seems like a really crazy idea is the start of something revolutionary.”
Live and Let Live: How Bio-Art Colors the Future will remain at the Museum Jan Cunen through May 29.