BAD Awards Special: Isaac Monté

by Geert Lebens, 25 January 2016

Bio-art & Design Awards | MU, Saturday January 23 | Isaac Monté, Dr. Renée van Amerongen and Dr. Monique Verstegen about ‘The Art of Deception’.

‘The Art of Deception’ focuses on the human striving for perfection by deception in society to show how art can influence our thoughts about the appliance of biological intervention. Isaac Monté created a series of pig hearts reflecting these desires. By customizing these hearts he portraits the very personal desires people have to strive for perfection and the radical the feeling can be, lighting out a very unusual motive for biological intervention.

Current healt care technologies allow us to transplant organs into other bodies. That means people have to agree with being a donor body. Even with these wonderful possibilities to save another human’s life there is a lack of human donor organs. So what if we would use pig hearts instead? It appears that pig hearts anatomically function the most like human hearts do. Also they are the less likely to be rejected by a human body. Therefore Isaac Monté’s choice to use a pig heart for his project seemed the most significant.

Another very important reason for using the heart as an experimental subject is its poetic meaning. The heart is the organ that is most associated with emotions; passion, longing, desire e.o. But also the most recognizable shaped organ of our body, that’s completely hidden on the inside. These choices are very important to create a debatable work. It creates an actual trigger of desire to fathom the project and the concept it represents.

For ‘The Art of Deception’ Isaac Monté collaborated with a.o. Toby Kiers (Free Univercity Amsterdam), Dr. Renée van Amerongen (Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences) and Dr. Monique Verstegen (Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam). In order to apply a process that’s called the decellurization of the pig heart, a process in which a consentration of SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate), a common ingredient of hygiene products, gets pumped through the blood vessels. This proces cleans out all the cellular content in order to create a ghost heart, which can be re-engineer with the stem cells of the recipient. The so-called “ghost heart” is a clean scaffold of white protein which forms the base (like a white canvas) for manipulation and customization.

The white canvas becomes taken literally in ‘No. 9 Heart of Thorns’, a tattooed heart, answering men’s desire to decorate their own bodies. This heart shows a way of carrying the names of our beloved ones even closer to our hearts. Or ‘No. 19 Heart of Stone’, a heart cast in concrete creating literally a heart of stone. With blood vessels cast in silver and yellow gold, the heart is visually crowned, representing wealth and status, showing the influence of such concepts becoming pronounced by an organ of the inner body.

During experiments for the ‘No. 8 Fire Heart’ Isaac Monté worked with fluorescent genetically modified micro-organisms, which he inserted into the bloodvessels, making them glow. But although this technology already exists, these ‘genetic mutations’ are not allowed to be brought outside of the lab. A problem for the project, according to Dr. Van Amerongen, but she credited Isaac for his practical methodologies he brought to the work floor. Eventually Isaac decided to experiment with a mixture of resin and fluorescent dyes, making it possible to create a heart with bloodvessels that can change from transparent into red.

But besides our motives for self expression and desire, Isaac Monté wants to ask his audience, whether we want a pig heart transplant or not? What if you are a vegetarian, or Muslim, for instance? Is it ethical to use animals for our own welfare and luxury? And under what circumstances will these organs be obtained?


‘No. 8 – Fire Heart’, image via:


‘No. 19 – Heart of Stone’, image via: