Placenta underground

Millett and White to discuss “Ex-Utero” project at Paris symposium

Cristin Millett, professor of art in sculpture, and Cynthia White, adjunct research associate in the College of Arts and Architecture’s Arts & Design Research Incubator (ADRI), will discuss “Ex-Utero,” their ongoing research project culminating in a sculptural artwork of an artificial uterus, at ISEA2023, the 28th International Symposium on Electronic Art, in Paris, France, May 16-21. They will speak as part of a panel with artist and researcher Ionat Zurr (Australia) and artist and art historian Maro Pebo (Mexico/The Netherlands), who will introduce their research about artificial wombs and the viral beginnings of the mammalian placenta.

The team’s proposal was selected from nearly 700 submissions. Their project involves scanning, decellularizing and molding a human placenta with the goal of creating an artificial uterus using a polyethylene biobag filled with an amniotic-like fluid of nutrient-rich media. The transparent incubator will allow viewers to peer into the interior of the womb, revealing a simulacrum of a placenta seeded with living, growing cells.

“The sculptural artwork will prompt questions and conversations about the socio-cultural impact of ectogenesis, a science with enormous implications that will change the future of humanity,” explained Millett, an embedded researcher in ADRI and transdisciplinary artist whose work examines the intersection of art and science, specifically sculptural processes and reproductive futures. “This is a rare opportunity to showcase the collaborative research facilitated by the College of Arts and Architecture, School of Visual Arts, the ADRI and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences [at Penn State] and make international connections with other researchers and artists working at the intersection of art, science and the humanities.”

Millett and White received a 2023 Joint Projects in Life/Medical Sciences, Arts and Humanities Grant from the Huck Institutes for their project. They will be collaborating with Dan Hayes, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Nanotherapeutics and Regenerative Medicine; Jonas Rubenson, associate professor of kinesiology; and Thomas Neuberger, associate research professor and director of the High Field Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility.