Artist Hacks 5 Life Support Machines, So They All Keep Each Other Alive

A modern-day Frankenstein is alive. It’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!

You’re looking at the ultimate human life-support system–a menu of contraptions needed to stay alive no matter how your body betrays you. Heart failing? You’re covered. Lost kidney function? Here’s a dialysis machine to the rescue. There’s just one thing missing: a human.


The Immortal, by Israeli-born designer Revital Cohen, is a collection of life-support machines rigged to keep each other, not a person, alive. Tubes and electric cords connect to create a closed loop through a heart-lung machine, a dialysis machine, an infant incubator, a mechanical ventilator, and an intraoperative cell salvage apparatus (a sort of washing machine for your blood). Salt water pumps through the system like blood, and even maintains a “healthy” composition, thanks to continuous infusions of oxygen and minerals. An EEG monitors The Immortal’s artificial heartbeat.

Constructing this 21st-century Frankenstein’s monster was no small challenge. First, Cohen had to find the equipment, which took more than a year of research, scouting medical sites and cold-calling hospitals. “Some of these machines are way over the £100,000 region and not easy to find,” she tells Co.Design. “I ended up buying a few parts in medical equipment auctions, convincing hospital technicians to let me take redundant, out-of-date equipment and had parts donated by generous medical companies.”

Then she had to make all the disparate computers talk to each other. “These machines are really intelligent, operate in very closed systems, and are made to perform an incredibly specific task,” she says. “In order to build the circuit they had to be dumbed down and reconfigured to get them up and running while connected to each other and not to a human body.”

You can probably guess the message here. Much as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable about the dark consequences of the Industrial Revolution, The Immortal tackles medical technology in the age of Dolly the sheep. “The Immortal investigates human dependence on electronics, the desire to make machines replicate organisms and our perception of anatomy as reflected by biomedical engineering,” Cohen writes in her artist’s statement.

Now for the really important question: Is The Immortal, well, immortal? “Theoretically, if the disposables are changed regularly, then maybe,” Cohen tells us. “However, this experiment is unprecedented and constantly unpredictable. I wouldn’t dare give a warranty.” Unpredictable? Warranty-free? This thing sounds more and more human by the minute.

Read more about Cohen’s work here.


[Images courtesy of Revital Cohen]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.