Van Gogh's Severed Ear Has A 3-D Printed Twin, On Show In A German Museum

There's a pretty mind-blowing exhibit on offer at a museum in Germany right now: It's a 3-D printed replica of Vincent Van Gogh's severed ear, culled from the DNA of his brother Theo's great-great-grandson. It's both a creepy and a wonderful accomplishment, a living, biological exhibit with skin cells minutely arranged in the genetic form of the famed artist. In short, it's a Van Gogh exhibit like you've never seen before.

The exhibit, titled "Sugababe," is on display at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) Media Museum in Kahlsrule, Germany. It's a collaboration between different fields of expertise, pairing artist Diemut Strebe's fascinating vision with a team of highly-skilled scientists up to the challenge of replicating van Gogh's long-lost ear. The exhibit runs until Friday, "due to the preservability of the nutrient solution," according the the ZKM's website.

Strebe has, however, said she plans to bring her art exhibition to New York sometime in early 2015, which means the American public could get a look at the biological art as well. The story of van Gogh's missing ear has fascinated biographers and historians, to some extent owed to its grisly and dramatic nature. The historical consensus for years has been that he cut it off himself — van Gogh suffered badly with mental illness throughout his life — and ultimately left the remnants of his ear with a prostitute he knew.

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In 2009, however, German historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans claimed a different theory of the fateful event, suggesting he may have been wounded by close friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin. They believed the attack could have sprung from an argument after Gauguin told van Gogh he intended to leave the home the two had shared in southern France, and that van Gogh may have deliberately concealed the truth to shield his friend from legal harm.

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In either case, given the violent background of the ear, this reconstruction is both macabre and awe-inspiring. It's also a work of interactive art, though in subtle terms — the ear can actually hear sounds that are spoken to it, which are processed by a computer. The only reply is static, which is intended to display "absence instead of presence," but nonetheless, it's still a 3-D printed ear that can actually hear. It's weird, but pretty astonishing.

Image: Diemut Strebe/Sugababe