How to shock the Dutch: Biotechnology and Art

The term ‘bio-art’ always seemed a bit 1970’s hippie-like to me, but I’ve recently revised my opinion on bio-art, after visiting the exhibition ‘Living Couture or: How I learned to stop worrying and love biotechnology’, organised by a group of Art History students from Leiden University. This exhibition and event is interesting in several ways:

  1. It’s an art exhibition
  2. The exhibition is interdisciplinary, which is hip
  3. The exhibition is food for thought in many ways

Let your thoughts go on the title for about five minutes before dropping out of the discussion early.

My own mind on ‘biocouture’ was quite neutral. I didn’t really know what to expect, even from an art point of view. The only thought I had was that the word ‘biocouture’ sounds like bad smelling clothes made out of organic cotton.

How wrong could I be: the exhibition, and the discussion accompanying it, is all about the possibilities of biotechnology and its applications in art and fashion.

Jos van den Broek, professor of communication in biomedical sciences, opened the exhibition. He made his own small exhibition, containing examples of biotechnological experiments, like a fluorescent frog, soap made out of blended quails or ‘grandma’s skin’ and a fluorescent jacket made out of rabbit fur.


Will we all wear cultivated skin as clothes in the future?
bioco 4
Did you know that you could make soap by putting quails in the blender?
“Grandma has been resomated. Now she’s turned into this lovely heart-shaped piece of soap”
Jos van den Broek’s mini-exhibition with biotechnological experiments


By showing these seemingly controversial experiments, Van den Broek wanted to open the discussion about the gap between the possibilities of biotechnology and its boundaries in ethics. Why wouldn’t you make soap – or even gloves – out of your deceases grandma’s skin, so that you can keep her with you a little bit longer? That way, beside – in case of the gloves – owning a unique fashion item, you’re also very environmentally conscious. Could it get any better?

Although the example above might sound as an excellent idea, it still sounds shocking to quite some people. Even in the Netherlands, where – for some foreign people – shocking things like legal prostitution and drug use seem like the normal routine, the ethic discussion about the possibilities (and dangers) of biotechnology is still up for debate. If so much is possible in biotechnology nowadays, why can’t we use all those possibilities? What are the boundaries and who sets these boundaries? Will we all be eating cultivated or 3D printed meat in a few decades? Or, as Van den Broek mentioned, meat coming from headless cows? Will our jeans grow on trees and will our shirts be made out of cultivated material from the lab?

The opening of the exhibition definitely pushed a button with me: I actually didn’t “stop worrying”  like the title of the exhibition tells me to do. I actually started worrying about biotechnology and its possibilities for society and for the arts: what about a cultivated painting that repaints itself every week? Or cultivated stone that forms itself in the shape the artist (or scientist) want. Endless possibilities!

For everyone who started worrying about Biotechnology and Art as well: check out their website or their Facebook page for upcoming events at the exhibition at Raamsteeg2. (like the philosophical discussion tonight!!).




  1. Like the idea of having a weekly renewable painting 🙂 They should also make self-renewable tattoo’s, so tattoo-lovers won’t have to undergo any painful procedures to get rid of their former-lover’s name. 😀


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