Interview with BAD Award winner Isaac Monté & Toby Kiers

Interview with BAD Award winner Isaac Monté & Toby Kiers

Interview with BAD Award winner Isaac Monté & Toby Kiers

An essay by / interview with Isaac Monté

The art of deception

Q: The hearts: are they human?
Isaac: No: We used pig hearts, because pig organs will be used in the near future to be implanted in the bodies of human beings. The resemble the best the human organs.

Q: Where do you get them from?
Isaac: It is very difficult to find pig hearts in The Netherlands which are not cut open. In abattoirs in The Netherlands the heart is being cut open to check for malformations. A malformation of the heart is an indication for bad health and bad meat. Therefore I drove all the way to the border with Germany where I picked up 30 hearts from an old-fashioned butcher/abatoir.

Toby:He resembled a drug dealer, transporting pig hearts in the trunk of his car from Germany.

Q: Why did you use pig hearts?
Isaac: Pigs hearts are most similar to that of humans. Maybe in the future they will be used for xenotransplantation (Transplantation of organs between pigs and humans). The heart valves of pigs are already being used nowadays.

Q: Toby, you are an evolutionary biologist, what do these techniques - decellularization of vertebrate hearts - have to do with your practice as a scientist?
Toby: Nothing.
His project is about deception, and that is the topic of my research. The Kiers Lab in the Department of Ecological Science is interested in understanding the evolution of cheating and deception in nature. We study how organisms can manipulate themselves and their environments to gain benefits. Organisms in nature, like humans, use deception as a tool to increase their success. We use theory and empirical approaches to understand these processes. Our focus on microbial interactions will be paramount in the realization of this project because we can provide culturing expertise, sterile laboratory space, chemical protocols, and microbes. Ultimately, we are interested in the strategies organisms use to increase their success. Humans are exceptional in their ability to manipulate their external appearance; our lab is interested in the future frontiers of human manipulation, and how far and to what lengths evolution will drive organisms to achieve so-called ‘perfection’.

Q: Did you learn Isaac how to decellurize this tissue?
Toby: No, he already knew how to do it. I learned it from him!

Q: Did he work in your lab?
Toby: No he worked in an empty lab in the VU building - luxury
The building will be refurbished. Therefore all the existing labs and groups are moving to a new building. We arranged one of those labs for Isaac to work in.

Isaac Monté & Toby Kiers during the opening at MU

Q: What did you learn from Isaac?
Toby: He is a good organizer and a good collaborator both with scientists and artists. Isaac engaged a lot of other scientists and artists in his project.

Isaac: We set up collaborations with a variety of parties, from jewelry designers, to tattoo artists to scientists.

For the Heart of Stone for example we collaborated with Gallerie PUUR in Rotterdam. They made a cast of the vessels in first grade silver and 14 carats yellow gold to decorate the first crowned heart, showing how wealth and status can infiltrate into organs.

For the decellularization technique we collaborated with Monique Verstegen of the Department of Liver Transplantation and Tumor Immunology. She uses the technique in her research on liver transplantations.

Q:It looks like a cooperation made in heaven. Did you have fun?

Q: How did the scientists from the VU respond to the presence of Isaac?
Isaac: They raise eyebrows. At the beginning they did not know who I was and of course I needed some help here and there. But slowly they learned more about the project and they came and visited me in my private lab on the fifth floor during lunch break. Of course I spoiled them with cookies and coffee.

Q: Final question: Are they for sale?
Yes, but only as a collection, individual pieces are not for sale. They belong together as a series and a story.