Advances in bio-medical technologies such as tissue engineering, xenotransplantation, and genomics promise to render the living body as a malleable mass. The rhetoric used by private and public developers as well as the media have created public anticipation for less than realistic outcomes. The full effects of these powerful technologies on the body and society have, in most cases, only superficially discussed. Winged bodies (both animal and human) have been used in most cultures and throughout history. Usually, the kind of wings represented the creature (chimeras) as either good/angelic (bird-wing) or evil/satanic (bat-wing). There is yet another solution to flight in vertebrates which seems to be mostly free of cultural values – that of the Pterosaurs. We have used tissue engineering and stem cell technologies in order to grow pig bone tissue in the shape of these three sets of wings. The Pig Wings installation presents the first ever wing shaped objects grown using living pig tissue. This absurd work presents some serious ethical questions regarding a near future where semi-living objects (objects which are partly alive and partly constructed) exists and animal organs will be transplanted into humans. What kind of relationships we will form with such objects? How are we going to treat animals with human DNA? How will we treat humans with animal parts? What will happen when these technologies will be used for purposes other then strictly saving life?
The Pig Wings project was developed in 2000-2001 during a residency in the Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Laboratory in Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
In the Pig Wings project three sets of wings made out of pig mesenchymal cells (bone marrow stem cells) were grown over/into biodegradable/bioabsorbable polymers (PGA, P4HB). The wings size is 4cm x 2cm x 0.5cm each, and they were grown for approximately nine months inside a rotary cell culture bioreactor. The original wings are coated with gold and kept in jewellery boxes.