3D print of Vincent van Gogh's ear. Source: Diemut Strebe
3D print of Vincent van Gogh's ear. Source: Diemut Strebe

Diemut Strebe, artist, used a distant relative’s DNA to 3D print a replica of Vincent van Gogh’s ear. Strebe created the replica at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital using the living cells from Lieuwe van Gogh, the great-great-grandson of Vincent’s brother, Theo. Lieuwe and Vincent share approximately 1/16th of the same genes.

Using a 3D printer, the cells were shaped to resemble the ear that van Gogh is famous for having cut off in 1888, possibly during a period of madness. The 3D printer deposited the cells layer by layer until the ear was complete. The ear is being kept alive inside a case of nourishing liquid and could theoretically last for several years.

Convincing Lieuwe to take part in the project was an easy task. “He loved the project right away,” said Strebe.

“I use science basically like a type of brush, like Vincent used paint,” Strebe told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The ear is an exhibition at The Center for Art and Media museum in Karlsruhe, Germany until July 6th, 2014. Visitors can speak to the ear via a microphone. “You can talk to the ear. The input sound is processed by a computer using software that converts it to simulate nerve impulses in real time,” explained the museum. “The speaker remains in soliloquy. The crackling sound that is produced is used to outline absence instead of presence.”

Strebe also plans to display the ear in New York sometime next year. Strebe hopes to create the next installation using a female relative’s DNA.