Artist-in-residence Heather Dewey-Hagborg to create multimedia performance exploring xenotransplantation
SAN FRANCISCO (October 25, 2022) – The Exploratorium is a proud recipient of this year’s Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions for major new works in media arts, announced today by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The award will fund the creation of Xeno in Vivo, a multimedia-hybrid performance and live film investigating xenotransplantation — the genetic engineering of pigs as a source of human organs – by Exploratorium artist-in-residence Heather Dewey-Hagborg.
“Heather’s vision for Xeno in Vivo embodies the interplay of art and science that we believe is critical to understanding the world around us,” said Lindsay Bierman, executive director and CEO of the Exploratorium. “We're deeply grateful to the Hewlett Foundation for this recognition and support of the Exploratorium’s long-standing commitment to arts programming. We can't wait for visitors to experience this profound and incisive work.”
Xeno in Vivo will explore the 10,000-year history of pig domestication and breeding by humans and ponder how cutting-edge gene editing technologies and xenotransplantation will affect that relationship into the future. Xeno in Vivo will feature an operatic soundtrack, live narrative, 3D-printed ceramic pig sculptures, and will include multiple projections integrating original documentary footage, 3D imagery, and live heart cells.
The piece expands on Dewey-Hagborg’s work utilizing biology as a medium for artistic expression and probing questions around the interconnectedness of humans and nature. Probably Chelsea, an artwork by Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea Manning, features 20 different sculptural portraits based on the same person’s DNA information and is part of the Exploratorium’s Cells to Self exhibition collection.
“I first learned about xenotransplantation four years ago while I was researching the emerging gene editing tool CRISPR,” Dewey-Hagborg said. “I found it stunning that pigs were one of the prime use cases for this new technology, and of all things, to make them more human. I have been ideating this project ever since, and my opinion has grown in complexity over time as I get to know my subjects (the scientists and the pigs).
“The technology is still young, but the first successful heart transplant from a pig to a human just occurred this year! The field is expanding rapidly. I hope this work will encourage the public to contemplate the risks and benefits and to grapple with the moral and emotional issues involved.”
The Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions were created in honor of the Hewlett Foundation’s 50th anniversary, and are a symbol of the foundation’s commitment to artistic expression and public engagement with the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“These new commissions in Media Arts celebrate a group of outstanding artists who are merging long-standing storytelling and performing arts traditions with emerging technologies to create art that is fresh, contemplative, and spirited,” said Emiko Ono, director of Hewlett’s Performing Arts Program. “We’re honored to support these exciting projects that weave together the performing arts and technology and will deeply resonate with Bay Area communities.”