Archive for May, 2009

pig skin

May 24, 2009

Working with pigs skin is, frankly, one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my art practice. I have to force myself to walk into the butcher and look at all the fleshy bits cut up into neat and tidy display sections. There’s a Chinese butcher shop downtown where I go to get fresh cuts of meat. The shop sells pigs ears, pigs tails, hearts, livers, chicken feet, etc. and has them all neatly lined up in the fridge.


Today I walked into the shop and asked for pig skin again. This time they gave me a big bag full of skin from different body parts; many with strands of hair. What’s more…they didn’t want any money for it. The pigs skin literally isn’t worth much on the meat market.


The ease of buy and trading pig skin makes me feel nauseated. I realize that by being vegetarian I have forgotten what it is like to be standing in a butcher shop smelling blood and meat. And as much I don’t want to be there, I realize that it is better to see such displays than forget that I am still implicated in consuming animals; whether that be wearing leather shoes, reading my leather bound dayplanner, making these images, or using fetal bovine serum in the nutrient solution to feed human cells.


For this project, I feel that it easier to use excess human skin from a consenting patient undergoing an elective plastic surgery procedure than pig skin bought from a butcher (even though it too would probably be thrown away of not purchased that day).

For another perspective on pig-human relations see Kira O’Reilly’s performance work based on her experiences doing tissue culture in the lab. Her text “inthewrongplaceness’ is beautifully written.



seeding the HaCat cells

May 24, 2009

labwork This last week has been focused mostly on seeding and passaging the HaCat cell line. The cells are proliferating quickly and so I am in the lab everyday  watching them grow.

In the meantime I have also been trying to order a custom designed leather stamp. Next week  I will receive the post surgery skin that will form the substrate of the sculptural books. I am hoping to test the stamps beforehand and make some with pigs skin I have bought from the butcher shop. (See my upcoming post on how I’m coping with  working with pigs skin). I am contacting various people with an interest in reconsidering representations of HIV  to submit news designs for the stamps to be applied to pig and human skin.

thestudio Also, see the new links I have added on the blog referencing books made of human skin.

The head librarian at UWA has been super helpful at assisting me in finding relevant articles. We discovered that the Wellcome Trust library (UK) has a book entitled “De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis” (1663), covered in human skin. It is apparently a medical book about virginity that is covered in the skin of a  female patient. I have contacted them to see about accessing the book and I hope to research it first hand when I go to the UK this summer.

Margaret and Christine Wertheim (video about their viral project)

May 14, 2009

May 14, 2009


I am still testing the tissue glue, pigs skin and freezer temperature on a daily basis. The exciting news is that I just got a flask of HaCat cells from one of the researchers here. (I am keeping his name anonymous for the moment).  I will be growing and passaging  the cells over  the next few weeks in preparing for the transduction with Lentivirus. In the meantime I’ll be working with Meredith Walsh, another artist-researcher in residence, and going over the do and don’t of Sterile Technique with her. She is doing an interesting project conducting cell culture with  jellyfish scooped from the river just outside the Anatomy building. (Check out SymbioticA’s website in the links to see her previous work.)


May 11, 2009


Freezing prototypes

May 8, 2009

These images are of the prototypes covered in

OTC ( glue used to protect tissue when frozen).

It is white when frozen and clear when it is in room

temperature. This glue was also used for the

Cryomemories installation (video on website).



Phase 1 developing cryobooks

May 7, 2009

I’ve started developing prototypes for the cryobooks after taking a course in surgical suture techniques.

The other day I took a walk to the local butcher and bought a big slab of pigs skin. I cant say that I enjoyed experience. In fact it took me a few days before I could muster up the will power to start cutting the skin into smaller sections.


Today I spent time testing out different suture needles and threading.  I tried different kinds of synthetic and nonsynthetic biodegradable ties. (coated and braided vicryl, silk and surgical catgut). So far the surgical catgut tie is working the best. The curved suture needle is working well for finer surgical stitching and the straight surgical needle seems to be working for using bookbinding stitching techniques.

So far the work in the lab is all about testing the material possibilities of the skin tissue before working with tissue culture and lentivirus in the PC2 lab.  It’s messy at the moment. I’m not paying much attention to the craft of the suture stitches yet. (I’m still getting a handle on the overpoweringly strong visceral reaction to working with flesh).

closeupprototypeHere’s a close up of two small pieces of pigs skin  stitched together with cat guts.


I have also been looking at the history of skin used in book binding technique. In fact, there is a long history of libraries collecting ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’ that date back as early as the 13th century. (See a recent article printed in the Harvard Law School Independent Newspaper (April 30, 2009) .   There are examples of cadavers skins being used for the cover of anatomy books. Such a practice was often intended to be a respectful homage to human cadavers. However, there is a tendency  to regard such a practice as macabre. Arguably it can be, especially when human skin is used without the consent of the person it has been extracted from. The use of animal skin tissue (and plant tissue forthat matter) for book binding, on the other hand, does not evoke such deeply ethical and visceral responses from humans.