Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear back in 1888, but now in 2014 his ear is making a fantastic comeback. If that sentence doesn’t make any sense to you, then we certainly can’t blame you for that. So let’s explain a little: Diemut Strebe, an American-based artist has been using 3D printing techniques to print Van Gogh’s missing ear. And no, this is not just a plastic ear, but a real, living human ear, which can survive for many years. Amazing or frightening? Van Gogh’s 3D printed ear!
Strebe has partnered with scientists to be able to 3D print a new ear for Van Gogh. They used a technique called bioprinting, which uses someone’s human tissue in order to 3D print a new limb that particular a person. The team initially wanted to use DNA from a postcard Van Hogh had licked, but the saliva turned out not to be from the 19th century painter, but from someone else. They therefore used living human cells from his great-grandson Lieuwe van Gogh. He however only shares 1/16th of the same genes of Vincent van Gogh.
When they got the cells printed, the only thing the team had to do was to let them grow. This was done at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The ear is now alive and can hear as well. It will be displayed at German ZKM Media Museum until this year’s July 6. The website states you “you can talk to the ear. The input sound is processed by a computer using software that converts it to simulate nerve impulses in real time. The speaker remains in soliloquy. The crackling sound that is produced is used to outline absence instead of presence.” However, a post by a person on 3Dprintboard forum might possibly describe this project in a more accurate way for the masses: “‘cloning’ body parts for funsies… Yep, we are definitely living in The Future.”
And the future usually starts at New York City, the city which has for a long time been innovative for a wide variety of arts. Strebe wants to go there to showcase her art in NYC. Whether Van Gogh’s ear will be part of the exhibition or not is still uncertain, but if so then there will be a couple of hours when you can actually say there is a flying 3D printed Van Gogh-ear.
Although it’s the first time one of Van Gogh’s limbs got printed, it’s certainly not the first time the 19th century legend was linked to 3D printing. Fujifilm worked for years on a project called ‘Reliefography’, in which they managed to reproduce a 3D print of Van Gogh’s famous painting Sunflowers. Apart from some differences in lighting, it’s hard to distinguish any serious differences between the real and the fake painting. If you would like to check it out yourself, then you can do it over here.
Image credits: Diemut Strebe/ ZKM.