Vessels of Care and Control: Compostcubator 2.0

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr

How can we keep cells alive outside the human body? Does compost hold the potential to sustain partial life?

New practices and therapies in regenerative medicine use tissue cultures grown outside of the body in a lab environment.

Vessels of Care & Control: Compostcubator 2.0 explores the use of a low-tech biological incubator to care for, nurture and control other living systems. In this installation, the heat generated by compost-dwelling microbes is harnessed to support the development of cellular life.

Throughout the run of SPARE PARTS, a compost-powered incubator, situated in the Guy’s Courtyard, outside the gallery, will attempt to heat and sustain scar cells (mouse connective tissue) at the required 37°C. Part artwork, part experiment, visitors will be able to monitor the temperature of the compost heap to gauge whether the tissue culture is surviving.

The shape of the installation draws on the architectural features of ancient places of worship, early child birth training devices (obstetric phantom) and on the nesting habit of the Malleefowl, an Australian bird which uses heat from rotting organic materials to incubate its eggs.

With thanks to Loughborough Farm and the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine at King's College London.

About the contributor(s) 

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr formed the internationally renowned Tissue Culture & Art Project in 1996. Catts is the Co-Founder and Director of SymbioticA: the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, School of Human Sciences at the University of Western Australia and was a Professor at Large in Contestable Design at the Royal College for the Arts UK. Zurr is a researcher and lecturer at the School of Design UWA and SymbioticA’s academic coordinator. Both are Visiting Professor at Biofilia – Based for Biological Arts, Aalto University Finland and have been visiting scholars at The Centre of Arts and Art History at Stanford University and Research Fellows at The Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory, Harvard Medical School.

Kalle Sipila is a Research Associate at the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King's College London.

Christina Philippeos is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King's College London.