Artist, Diemut Strebe, with the help of a team of scientists, was able to make a 3D print of Van Gogh’s ear, using the DNA of a descendent of the painter.
Van Gogh was thought to have cut off his own ear after a psychotic episode in the 1800’s, however in 2009 German historians presented a new theory, that fellow painter Paul Gauguin, who was also a fencer, had cut it off with a sword after an argument. They propose that the pair kept it quiet to avoid prosecution as well as to attempt to preserve their tumultuous friendship.
With the DNA obtained from Lieuwe van Gogh, who is the great-great Grandson of Van Gogh’s brother, Theodorus, Strebe and the team created the piece, which was displayed at ZKM Karlsruhe Museum in Karlsruhe. There is an interactive element to the installation, a microphone that visitors viewing the piece can talk into.
The sound travels through the Hoagland solution that the ear is suspended in and is translated into a simulated nerve impulse, which is amplified as broken static sounds. The question the piece poses is that of the Greek historian Plutarch’s “Ship of Theseus”, also known as “Theseus’ paradox”; where Pultarch asks “if you replace all the parts of a ship is it still the same ship?” The title is derived from an early 2000’s British pop band named “The sugababes” where the members are routinely replaced over time.
Noam Chomsky was the first visitor to speak into the ear.