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Et in Arcadia Ego

Et in Arcadia Ego

Charlotte Jarvis is growing her own biological ‘nemesis’, a malignant colon tumourbeing raised outside her body but originating from her own cells. This is for herlatest bio-art project, called Et in Arcadia Ego, which she is presenting as part ofthe Body of Matter exhibition at MU gallery in Eindhoven. The work was developedin cooperation with Prof. Hans Clevers and Dr. Jarno Drost at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht.

The project is about exploring the confrontation betweenour body and its bloody, biological mortality. It is also aboutrecognising cancer as a part of ourselves as much as our teeth oreyes. “Cancer is often described as something we must ‘fight’; anunseen force to be battled with somewhere on the field of our ownbodies. I am interested in actually seeing cancer ‘in the flesh’, inmaking tangible something that is usually discussed in metaphorsand in doing this exploring — maybe evaluating — the function ofthese metaphors when faced with the actual material,” explainsCharlotte Jarvis. She was the artist-in-residence at the NPCfor over two years. During that time she created two bio-artprojects: Blighted By Kenning1 (2012) and Ergo Sum2 (2014).

Ethical hurdles
Et in Arcadia Ego started at the beginning of this year with adebate on the emerging field of bio-art. Together with HansClevers (professor of Molecular Genetics) and Bas Heijne (writer,opinion maker), Charlotte discussed some of the societal,scientific and ethical questions regarding her challenging andinnovative bio-art project, designed to raise awareness andunderstanding of colon cancer. Then, she set about creating thework. The first step was to undergo a rectoscopy to collect tissuefrom her bowel. Finding a clinic willing to take a colon biopsyfrom a healthy person turned out to be very challenging. Thoughit is a minor, low-risk procedure Jarvis ran into numerous practicaland ethical hurdles. “This was frustrating, giving that many ofthe clinics which we approached regularly carry out extensivecosmetic surgery, which is comparatively high risk and arguablyhas no medical application,” she notes. Eventually though, shefound a doctor in Paris who was willing to take the biopsy.

An opportunity
The biopsy was then processed at Hans Clevers’ lab, wherehis scientific team uses stem cells to grow samples of colontissue in vitro. To date, all of the samples they have hadaccess to have been from cancer patients. This projectprovided them with an opportunity to test their method ontissue from a healthy patient. To make the sample cancerousfour mutations had to be induced in the cells - reflecting the same changes that would occur in the body of a patient.

The exhibition
Eventually, the ‘cancer’ will be exhibited in the Bodyof Matter exhibition at MU, Eindhoven. The tumour willbe gut cancer that is genetically ‘Charlotte’ — grownfrom her own cells in the lab. The tumour will live in aspecially designed installation at MU. Charlotte will makea durational performance with the tumour. She will watchit, feed it, care for it and confront it. A ‘waiting room’ hasalso been created for the project, which will function asa documentation space in which the project is discussed,dissected, communicated and ultimately created.Alongside Charlotte Jarvis, nine other artists willexhibit their bio-art projects, including the threewinners of the Bio Art & Design Award 2015.


1. Blighted By Kenning:
2. Ergo Sum:

Body based bio-art and design

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