Amy Karle has a bone to pick with the art world – but not one you’d expect. At a time when most young peeps are expressing their creativity by making ironic memes, asking you to listen to their harsh noise mixtape, and complaining about Pokémon Go! with a series of obnoxious Facebook statuses about “being an adult”, the San Francisco-based artist has taken things in a completely different direction.
She’s working with bone.
Now let’s clarify: bone art has been around for thousands of millennia, with indigenous populations producing a plethora of tools and carvings from salvaged bone material. Karle, however, doesn’t carve her bone art.
She grows it.
For her latest project,Regenerative Reliquary, she’s basically biohacked bone cells to grow into tortuously complex designs modelled on the human hand. Equal parts art and science, and a fusion of what Karle calls “generative art and regenerative medicine”, the work is just as groundbreaking as it is beautiful. If we’re lucky, it might inspire almost as many sketches in the margins of high school goth’s textbooks as Marilyn Manson did in the ’90s.
The process is fascinating – by working with Autodesk Bio/Nano’s Chris Venter and Ember’s John Vericella and Brian Adzima, the chosen designs are 3D-printed with PEGDA hydrogel; a neutral medium conducive to cell growth.
After the prints are sterilised, they’re seeded with mesenychmal stem cells, which have the potential to grow into a wide variety of bodily materials, and have a wealth of therapeutic potential. Providing the project with an adequate environment and nutrients for cell development, Karle and the team estimate that it’ll take two years for the project to reach completion – if things don’t go awry.
Apparently, like in any good science project and/or Mary Shelley-esque horror story, there’s potential for the stem cells to grow into something other than bone, conceivably forming a series of horrific, hand-shaped eldritch horrors intent on eating the faces of everyone in the greater Bay Area.
Even though it hasn’t been designed to be functionally transplanted back into the human body, Karle’s works definitely point towards future potential in medicine, with stem cell-grown replacement limbs and bone grafts theoretically less prone to rejection and other complications than their current counterparts.
However, in a world where debates about transhumanism and bodily enhancement are moving quickly from the realm of the conceptual to that of potential reality, Karle sees her art as the first road sign towards a future where alternate body parts are grown and implanted for their cosmetic and aesthetic value, rather than any urgent medical use.
We’re going to ask Karle to design some eyes next –purely so all those Aussie twentysomethings forced to study Blade Runner in high school English can relive their favourite memories one last time.