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On Growing Body Parts and Organs. An interview with Rossella Scapini

On Growing Body Parts and Organs. BODY +TECH – An interview with sculptural artist, Rossella Scapini as part of (drum roll please) The How to Guide to be Human in the Future series.

I discovered Rossella on my second trip to el festival del hombre quemando in 2009. In my research on which installations to check out in the desert, it was the Bio*tanical Garden that caught my eye. Rossella developed an idea that had ricocheted around in my brain for some while, triggered by the wish to grow a new eye.

This is a view of the avant-garde in biological harvesting. This innovative greenhouse cultivates human organs and body parts in pots until they are ready to be trans-planted!

With stem cell transplants, artificial implants, high-tech prosthesis … farming extra body parts is happening now or not that far off – Rossella imagined a simple way weeding out the middle man by going DIY with home-grown fingers, eye-balls, genitalia the same way you might grow rosemary, basil, and oregano herbs out in your backyard.

My interview with Rossella:

T.V.: How did you come up with the idea of growing body parts / organs?

Rx: I’ve always been fascinated with scientific research, and the unexpected paths they might lead to. Something that seems unthinkable today could easily exist in the future, and the future could be not so far away. Centuries ago the idea of putting something inside the eye to improve the eyesight would have appeared at least strange, while today hundreds of millions of people use contacts worldwide.

Years ago I read about the idea of cloning humans to keep them as a source of replacement organs. I don’t know how “scientific” it was, but I thought it would have been really terrible! “Let’s just grow the organs!” I said to myself. And this is how I came to imagine a greenhouse that harvests  transplant human parts. It doesn’t seem to me any more horrible than the possibility of storing humans as replacement parts.   I decided to give the whole project a surreal and grotesque touch, and to have the greenhouse looking like a nice, organic little cultivation. I mean, there is some irony in the whole idea. I ‘d like people to see it and experience rejection and fun at the same time.

T.V.: Does bioengineering play any influence?

Rx: Of course it does, even if I don’t really know much about it. It isn’t my field of expertise, but this allows me to revise an idea, to see it with the point of  view of an amateur, and to create a different (maybe unexpected) concept.

T.V.: I know you also have titanium in your body, can you tell me a little about the motorcycle accident you were in?

Rx: When I was 23 I had motorcycle accident, and broke my right femur. The treatment of a femoral shaft fracture is almost always with surgery. The procedure implies the insertion of a titanium rod down the center of the thigh bone to reconnect the two ends of the bone, and the rod is secured in place with screws both above and below the fracture. There’s no need to remove the rod, unless it causes pain or other problems, which it doesn’t, in my case. It took me many years to be able to practice the typical crossed-leg asana posture, but now I can do it without problems.

T.V.: What do you think about cyborgs ? or technology infused humans? Will this lead us to a utopian or dystopian society?

Rx: I’m extremely fascinated with cyborgs. First of all, they are living sculptures (and in fact my first pieces were “Cyberwoman” and “Cyberwoman II”) and they represent the utopia  of a perfect being. Created by humans , but with the high efficiency of a computer. We usually imagine them with a little bit of sensitivity-after all, if we think of humans as gods, able to create life, we might as well create something a little better than a mere machine. Will this really be the future? I don’t know. I can only imagine a scenario in which the cyborgs represent a caste a part ,able to perform their duties in a few sectors: maybe surgeons, or sportsman, or erotic machines. Would it be positive? I’m not sure, we might just end up trapped in an all time entertainment life cycle, doing nothing because cyborgs take care of everything, while a few humans fight to rule the society for their only profit. Or maybe not. Maybe in the future we will see the last version of the I-Cyb, a fantastic device that not only is a camera, a laptop, an mp3 player, a phone: it’s also a FRIEND. (ah ah ah)

T.V.: I’m making a wild guess here, but by your name, I’m surmising that you’re from Italia? Yes?

Rx: Yes, from Brescia, a city 50 miles from Milan.

T.V.: I discovered that I’ve received a lot of attention from my project on replicating my prosthesis into a bionic eye from Italy – I’ve been in Panorama, Max, and was recently interviewed by WIRED Italy… Can you shed some light on why your country is so fascinated with bionic people?

Rx: I have no idea. I left Italy 6 years ago, and though I’m still in touch with friends and family, I don’t really follow culture and fashion.

T.V.: What do you think Artists can bring to science and technology that scientists aren’t or can’t?

Rx: Different poinst of view, more creative, more pristine because not bonded to a structure that’s been built over studies and theories.

I recently had to make a sculpture for a client. He didn’t have any artisti

c skills or education, but wanted to create this image he had in his mind. He told me how he saw it, and we made it together. I was his hands.  The piece was a woman’s head. At times I was very skeptical at some of his ideas, and found myself creating things that I would have never though of. Well, it turned out very good, and it really opened my mind.  I think something similar happens every time an outsider brings new and fresh ideas into a consolidated field. And it’s the beauty of it.

Rossella Scapini at Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco. Photo by T.V. (9/23/09)

ABOUT: ROSSELLA SCAPINI      (November 7, 1976 Brescia, Italy)

I have studied Art since the age of 14 in Italy, where I graduated at the Academy Of Fine Arts LABA (Brescia) in 2004, with a focus in Sculpture. After working as an art restorer and interior decorator, I moved to Barcelona, Spain, at the age of 24. I started working as a professional artist in set and props construction for cinema and advertisements, as well as theme parks and events. I moved to  Berkeley California in 2007, where I currently live and work.

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