Gogh Gogh Gadget: Museum Shows Genetic Reproduction of van Gogh’s Ear

All images depict Diemut Strebe, ‘Sugababe’ (2014—) (© Diemut Strebe)

A new exhibition at Germany’s Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (ZKM) features a genetically faithful reproduction of the ear Vincent van Gogh reportedly cut off in 1888 during a psychotic episode. The work, part of an ongoing series called Sugababe, was developed by artist Diemut Strebe using genetic material culled from Lieuwe van Gogh, the great-great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh’s brother Theo, according to the Guardian.

Grown from “tissue engineered cartilage” formed into a faithful computer rendering of the artist’s ear, Strebe claims his work is conceptually motivated by the Ship of Theseus, a Classical thought experiment dealing with the nature of reproduction and identity.

The title of the piece refers to the British pop band Sugababes, which was linked to the Ship of Theseus in an article by Sam Jacob appearing in the December 2011 issue of Art Review. Jacob observes that between 1998 and 2009, the membership of the band turned over entirely: “each had been replaced by another member, just like the planks of Theseus’s boat.” 

This connection, strangely enough, is not cited in any of the show’s official literature online, though the exhibition opened on May 30 “in conjunction with” a lecture by Noam Chomsky.

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