Cells in search for the body : evoking the haptic memory of cultured cells

Research output: Conference PapersRGC 33 - Other conference paperpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPresented - 8 Jun 2019


Title21st International Consciousness Reframed Conference
LocationUniversidade Católica Portuguesa
Period6 - 8 June 2019


Cell culture is a biological procedure that inspires many artists. We are fascinated by tools used for cell culture. Cell culture vessels can be viewed as a contemplation of the definitions of “life”. In the body, cells are housed in tissues and organs. By culturing the cells in a flask, we are unknowingly treating this container as a body surrogate. We desire this surrogate to be physiological meaningful, but most dishes, flasks or hydrogels are only poor approximations of the complex body.
This confrontation enticed us to turn body parts into cell culture surfaces. We developed a process that turn biological tissues into glass, and used these “fossilised” tissues to culture cells. Stem cells cultured on fossilised tendon spontaneously developed into tendon-like cells, suggesting that when presented with the native architecture, cells recapitulate their pre-culture properties and fates. These fossils are evoking the haptic memory of the cells.
By turning animal tissues into glass, we blur the lines between “in vitro” (in glass) and “in vivo” (in the living). Tales of petrifaction, the transfixing of an animated being into a lifeless object, has recurred throughout history. Petrifaction preserves the morphology of the body while irreversibly devoid it of life. We showed that the petrified body, though lifeless, still communicated to cells. This information, not stored in the genome but entangled in the contour and topography of the body, represents a level of cognition about which we are only beginning to fathom.

Research Area(s)

  • art criticism, Art and biology

Bibliographic Note

Research Unit(s) information for this publication is provided by the author(s) concerned.

Citation Format(s)

Cells in search for the body: evoking the haptic memory of cultured cells. / Lam, Yun Wah; Perez Bobadilla, Mariana.
2019. 21st International Consciousness Reframed Conference, Porto, Portugal.

Research output: Conference PapersRGC 33 - Other conference paperpeer-review