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video slide

Well Plate Utopias

In Well Plate Utopias I am using nanoparticle-based experimental cancer drugs to project images of Utopian Alphabet developed by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516 on cancer tissues grown in Petri dishes. The Alphabet was part of Thomas Moore’s masterpiece titled “Utopia.” This book became one of the most influential in the Western philosophical and literary tradition. Since the publication, this word became part of our language as a general expression; navigating a course between the desire to create perfection and application of that perfection. Let’s think about the concept of Utopia as a fruitful path, rather than a destination. Let’s draw a compelling parallel between nanotechnologies, scientific gaze, and the laboratory as a place where the future is produced and its relationships to contemporary society, culture, humanity’s hope for disease treatment and continuity of life. (click button for more)

To project these images, together with Daniel Heller's laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College, we developed a method that is close to the process of photo development in analog photography. However, in our project, instead of regular light and photo paper, we are using cancer tissue with infrared light to project a picture onto a tumor tissue. As a result, the impacted malignant tissue later dies. This unique had never been used in an artistic application before. Since the image is invisible to the eye, it needs to be photographed using an infrared camera and digitalized. Afterward, it is printed on specialized circular metal sheets using dye-sub print technology. Together they are composing a grid of 60 images, 22 different letters in total.

This original process did not only developed a new creative platform but is also relevant in the medical field; testing new drugs, their effects, accuracy of their distribution and impacts on the projected tissue on large scales:

“The nanoparticles used in this piece are being developed for the targeted treatment of cancer. They suppose to target tumor cells when administered into the bloodstream. When tissues harboring the nanoparticles are exposed to infrared light, the particles produce free radicals that kill the cancer cells. While optimizing the conditions to get better 'images’ for the art project, we found that the optimal laser wavelength for the photo-bleaching is also optimal for cell killing, which would have implication for photodynamic therapy for cancer. More specifically: we used to use the 730nm laser with not much effect and then because of the “artistic" attempts we found out that the 808nm is best for all purposes. Also, this project gave us clues on what nanoparticles to use to get the most effect.“

The scientists also use this new “photo - healing” process to observe cancer cells in the microscope. The methods they are using for imaging the cells are every time inevitably killing the malignant cells. So in this case, literally, the pure act of “looking at” kills or rather heals.

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