As one of the three winners of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Awards, the Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi (1981) together with the Forensic Genomics Consortium Netherlands (FGCN) created a piece of ‘bulletproof’ skin.
For this purpose spider silk, proportionately many times stronger than steel and made by transgenic goats and worms, was seeded with human skin cells and has grown into a ‘bulletproof’ human skin. As a result, the normal human skin is pierced, but the ‘bulletproof’ human skin repelled the bullet! This ‘bulletproof’ human skin is exhibited from June 17, 2011 at the National Museum of Natural History, Naturalis in Leiden, the Netherlands.
‘2.6g 329m/s’ refers to the maximum weight (2.6g) and velocity (329m/s) of a .22 calibre Long Rifle bullet from which a Type 1 bulletproof vest should protect you. During the firing process, this bullet but with partly reduced speed went straight through a normal piece of human skin. But an experiment that was shot on the ‘bulletproof’ human skin yielded exceptionally good footage of this same bullet being stopped. The ‘bulletproof’-skin however did not survive a shot with the actual speed after which the project was named.
Safety as a relative concept
For Essaïdi the outcome of the ‘bulletproof’-skin being pierced or not was not the most important. “By creating this ‘bulletproof’ human skin I want to explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issues surrounding safety. With this work I want to show that safety in its broadest sense is a relative concept, and hence the term bulletproof. Even with the ‘bulletproof’-skin being pierced by the faster bullet the experiment is in my view still a success. The art project is based on and leads to a debate on the question ‘Which forms of safety are socially important? And last but not least the project leads to aesthetically very impressing and fascinating results.”
Essaïdi won along with the FGCN and her project ‘2.6g 329m/s’ the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Awards, a prize that aims to connect art, design and life sciences. She received € 25,000, – in order to realise her idea. FGCN is a strategic alliance of three Dutch laboratories that conduct genetic research, aiming to develop tests that can be applied in forensic investigations.
‘2.6g 329m/s’ puts forward interesting material research beyond the expertise of only the FGCN and utilises the expertise of several external partners. The University of Utah provided the spidersilk, extraordinary spidersilk created by transgenic goats, and worms. In vitro human skin was created by the Leiden University Medical Center. The Netherlands Forensic Institute, as a partner of FGCN, executed the shooting test, which was recorded with a high speed camera.
Jalila Essaidi’s artwork is about the recognition of the transience of everything and the human desire to keep and hold. In her work she embeds this desperate race against time by using living or organic matter, capable of decay or the product of decay. While she uses a variety of materials and processes in each project, their roots are consistent. They are linked by nature’s genius, the fruits from three billion years of trial and error resulting in various ways of fighting transience, preserving information and recreating. By embracing new materials and knowledge resulting from biotechnology, Essaïdi offers a view on the social, political, ethical and cultural issues resulting from this relatively new ability of humans to understand and manipulate the mechanism behind nature’s genius.
‘2.6g 329m/s’ aka the bulletproof skin is exhibited from June 17, 2011 until January 8, 2012 at the National Museum of Natural History Naturalis, seen in the context of the LiveScience experiment.