It’s the rare person who’s comfortable with leeches and rattlesnakes and eels when they’re outside of one’s body. It’s an even tougher sell to warm to the idea of the slimy and legless creatures inside our bodies. In Circumventive Organs, London-based artist Agatha Haines asks us to suspend such fears. In a macabre fusion of art and biology, Haines created extraordinary models of new and improved human organs from molded silicon. Her designs poach creepy-crawly superpowers for our benefit.
Haines tells Co.Design that the idea for Circumventive Organs arose from her study of bioprinting, a new technology that allows the printing of cells. "I asked myself, if we have the power to produce new human organs, why not make them better than the ones we have now?"
Yes, those aforementioned creatures are better than us in particular ways. Eels, for example, but they have the power to shock. In one of Haines’s creations, rattlesnake muscles release mucus from the lungs of a cystic fibrosis patient. Another design uses cells from a leech’s saliva gland to send anticoagulants into potential blood clots, preventing strokes. A third employs electric eel parts as an internal defibrillator during a heart attack. "There are already lots of people who have had animal parts implanted through xenotransplantation," says Haines, "so I think this is already accepted in modern medicine."
Despite the impressive detail of these future-guts, Haines says she’s not trained in biology at all (after A-levels), and looked to experts for guidance. For inspiration, she says, "I watched a lot of surgical procedures. I’m fascinated with how surgery is depicted in film as macabre and freaky, from sci-fi and horror to art films like Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle."
So how likely is it that one day we’ll walk around as hybrid eel-people? Haines says, "There’s lots of new research in bioprinting. Anthony Atala and his team at Wake Forest University have printed the first kidney. I-stem in Paris is creating new epidermis. The possibilities could be amazing. If we could print from our own cells there would be no rejection from organ transplants." Though she concedes that such superorgans might only become a reality in the very distant future.
"In a weird way, I like to think of Frankenstein as a sort of paradigm," Haines tells Co.Design. "It points to the excitement of what humans can achieve and, at the same time, constitutes a warning of the dangers of transgressing the natural."