The ‘mouse leather’ jacket that was exhibited in a modern art museum

In 2008, the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMa) exhibited a tiny ‘leather jacket’ that was made not of cowhide, but of mouse cloth.

The artwork, titled Victimss Leather, was the brainchild of “bioartists” Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of the University of Western Australia’s SymbioticA lab.

The procedure for creating the leather jacket was: cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells were grown on a polymer scaffold that guided them into the shape of the minuscule garment.

The bioreactor used in this project was custom built, based on an organ perfusion pump designed by Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh (yes, the famous aviator). What Carrel wanted to achieve was to preserve life outside the body: to keep tissues and organs alive “in vitro”, that is, in glass containers. His device was called the “Model T” pump and, in later years, it was developed by others, eventually leading to the construction of the first heart-lung machine.

However, the jacket did not last long as such, because after a few weeks of being on display the sleeve fell off, and soon after the cells of the fabric began to separate in groups from the polymer structure.

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