Semi Living Worry Dolls


This project also known as Tissue Culture & Art(ificial) Wombs was first presented in Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria in 2000. The Semi-Living Worry Dolls were the first tissue engineered sculptures to be presented alive in a gallery context.

We chose to grow modern versions of the legendary Guatemalan Worry Dolls in the artificial womb.

“The Guatemalan Indians teach their children an old story. When you have worries you tell them to your dolls. At bedtime children are told to take one doll from the box for each worry & share their worry with that doll. Overnight, the doll will solve their worries. Remember, since there are only six dolls per box, you are only allowed six worries per day.”


We decided to give birth to seven dolls, as we are not kids anymore. We may not be allowed to have more than six worries but we surely have. We gave them alphabetical names as we think that we can find a worry for each letter of the language that made us what we are now. While working on the Tissue Culture & Art Project, people expressed to us their anxieties. These dolls represent some of them. You are welcome to find new worries and new names… You will be able to whisper your worries to these dolls and hope that they will take these worries away.


Doll A = stands for the worry from Absolute truths, and of the people who think they hold them.
Doll B = represents the worry of Biotechnology, and the forces that drive it. (see doll C)
Doll C = stands for Capitalism, Corporations
Doll D = stands for Demagogy, and possible Destruction.
Doll E = stands for Eugenics and the people who think that they are superior enough to practice it.
Doll F = is the fear of Fear itself.
G = is not a doll as the Genes are present in all semi-living dolls.
Doll H = symbolizes our fear of Hope…


Our worry dolls were hand crafted out of degradable polymers (PGA and P4HB) and surgical sutures. The dolls were sterilized and seeded with endothelial, muscle, and osteoblasts cells (skin, muscle and bone tissue) that are grown over/into the polymers. The polymers degrade as the tissue grows. As a result the dolls become partially alive. Will they take our worries away?


Tell your worries to the Semi-Living Worry Dolls


Technical statement


The ‘worry dolls were handcrafted from biodegradable polymers, PGA mesh, P4HB, PLGA and various surgical sutures. The dolls are approximately 10 mm tall by 7 mm wide by 5 mm deep. The polymer constructs were sterilized using ethylene oxide (ETO) at 55°C for two hours; we seeded the dolls with McCoy Cell Line (derived from human, now classifed as mouse endothelial cells, and used in virology studies). We statically cultured the dolls for 14 and 21 days in a 37°C/5%CO2 incubator. We then moved them to the Synthecon RCCS ID4 (a rotating bioreactor that provides conditions of micro gravity) for the duration of the exhibition. The tissues were cultured until proliferated cells largely covered the polymer surface, growing into the porosity of the polymer scaffold.[i] It was the first time we were able to take the Semi-Living outside of the laboratory and into the gallery while they were still alive. This meant constructing a fully functioning tissue culture laboratory in the gallery. TC&A incorporates the laboratory as part of the installation to present the environment in which the Semi-Living entities can thrive. This also enables us to perform the duties needed to care for the Semi-Living sculptures while the exhibition is being held, in a way that enables the audience to observe and comprehend the commitment and responsibilities that we have towards the living systems we create. This involves the construction of an enclosure and a tissue culture laboratory, including: a sterile hood, an artificial environment for the Semi-Living entities (a bioreactor), a microscope, laboratory consumables and compliance with the safety requirements of physical containment level two laboratories. All are designed/constructed as an integral part of the conceptualisation and theatrical intentions of the installation. Here we are presenting the dead version of the worry dolls, the seven dead dolls preserved in small jars and photographs of the before (the cells were added) and after (the dolls were “killed”) seven original dolls.


[i]Oron Catts & Ionat Zurr, Gowing Semi-Living Sculptures, Leonardo Magazine, MIT Press, Issue 35:4, August 2002, p. 368.