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Crystallized Humanoids: Growing A Human Body From Crystals

On the 5th August 1993 Joseph Paul Jernigan was executed by the state of Texas for the murder of 75-year old Edward Hale. But after Jernigan was killed by lethal injection his body didn’t get put in the ground, instead he donated it to scientific research where it was frozen at minus 73°C and then cut into 1mm intervals to form 1,871 slices which were photographed to become the Visible Human Project—a “digital image dataset” of the human body.

Taking inspiration from this artist Tobias Klein and design studio Ordinary created their piece The Invisible Human which is currently on display at the Industry Gallery in Washington, DC. For this project they digitally sliced a human body through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to create a template—and on this template crystals grow which can be manipulated by the public who control the temperature of the exhibition cases and so influence the shape and outcome of the crystallized human forms.

Detail: Amalgamation ofcCrystal with life size human 3D printed spine. Photo credit: A Kaiser

Klein sees it as a continuation of his previous work which explores “the technological and digital perception, construction and dissemination of the human body” and began with his piece Soft Immortality back in 2007. “I developed a very keen interest in medical data sets and in particular Magnetic Resonance Images as a source of soft embodiment.” he told me via email. “The Invisible Human therefore is at the end of a long line of interpretation of embodiment in the categories of digital impulses, boundaries, ecclesial iconography.”


Studio Tobias Klein’s Virtual Sunset

Another theme in Klein’s work is audience participation. For his piece Virtual Sunset, which gets a second iteration at the gallery, he crowdsourced images of the sunsetting across the globe and projected them onto PVC tubing to create a three-dimensional artwork that echoed the ethereal sunsets of J.M.W. Turner’s watercolors. “There is a real beauty in setting up a system and framework that allows an impression, a crease to emerge in the artwork by creating a participatory element in the work.” he says. “The growing of a scaled dataset of a human body becomes articulated in the artificially defined boundary in the context of the network. The question of input and impulse that is chemically transferred leaves the trace in the body and re-defines its boundaries in a networked digital society.”

Lower abdomen after growing over 10 days. Photo credit: A Kaiser

As well as being able to influence the temperature via a website, the incubators which hold the crystals are fitted with infra red sensors so they can sense the presence of visitors as they come into the gallery and their proximity is translated into heat.

The idea of crystals giving form (however abstract) to the human body contradicts their usual behavior where their formation usually results in death. “Within the unique setting, the designed micro environment with its changing temperatures, becomes the growing DNA of the object.” Klein notes. This reversal is what Klein calls a “counter-intuitive biological process” and its in this paradoxical setting that the creative process takes place, echoing what occurs naturally (but fatally) in the human body.

Incubator for sectional canvases. Photo credit: B Webster


9 sections in the incubator. Photo credit: B Webster


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