Permanently preserved within glass tubes of chemicals are three vases that offer a startling portrait of what the sublime looks like in the 21st century. These objects derived from the human body showcase a coming future where we can redesign genetically identical versions of ourselves in new and unimaginable forms.
Developed for the La Fabrique du Vivant exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the work builds upon an earlier iteration, Semi-Human Vase (2015). The previously mechanical appearance has been streamlined in this version to sharpen the focus on the vases. They were made out of HeLa cells this time around through a close collaboration with biomedical engineering professor Dr. Patricia Dankers and her PhD candidate Dan Jing Wu at the Technology University Eindhoven. The choice of material is symbolic as these “immortal cells” were discovered in the 1950s and have contributed significantly to the development of modern medicine since. Today, HeLa cells are a widely used material in scientific research and to produce replacement body parts.
Each vase was created using a 3D-printed biodegradable polymer scaffold that was partially induced into human tissue. They were then stained blue with Coomassie protein dye, a commonly used colour in laboratories to give cells visibility. The resulting “Delft blue” appearance references a type of blue-and-white colour pottery produced in the Dutch city of Delft, which was inspired by Chinese porcelain.
Inspiring both awe and antipathy, these vases blur the line between the natural and the artificial by seamlessly melding man and object. The uncanny connection collapses the traditional dichotomy between the two to express a new sublime. One that is no longer evoked by the beauty of nature or the grandeur of the man-made, but the potential of technology to disrupt and create new possibilities in the post-natural age.