Cryobook Archives

(2010 – Ongoing)

Cryobook Archives reflects on the use of, preservation and distribution of tissue towards information and knowledge creation.

This installation features sculptures, a series of handmade books, made of human and pig ex-plant tissue, HaCat cells, and synthetic biological virus (Lentivirus). Tissue culture engineering techniques such as transfection and immunohistochemical staining procedures along with traditional book binding techniques are used to manifest the fleshy books. Sculptures are exhibited in a “cryobook archive”, a portable -80 freezer unit and a mobile miniature library.

Biological tissue is and always has been, a vital element of information economy. It is studied, packaged, shipped, sold, recycled and cryopreserved in storage facilities that are akin to libraries.  We read tissue- both in a figurative and literal sense. On one hand, we learn about the world through sensory and perceptual encounters with tissue, and on the other, we generate and transmit that knowledge on and through tissues ( ie. human bodies, print on plant-based tissue, etc). This is especially relevant in the practice of biotechnology and laboratory research where tissues, viral vectors and cell lines are regularly applied towards information gathering and knowledge creation for medical and scientific purposes.  Tissues are stored in cryogenic storage units (BayBanks, scientific research laboratory freezers, cryogenic storage tanks)  preserving biological specimens for an indefinite period of time.

Visceral Exhibition, 2011 curated by Iron Catts and Ionat Zurr. Science Gallery.

In this work, skin tissue from human and pig is remixed in the form of the book creating an unexpected configuration and assemblage. The practice of binding books with plant and animal tissue is familiar, however the idea of books bound with human tissue is less so, and also fraught with discomfort and suspicion, especially from a western perspective with distant memories of grave robbing for body parts and the contemporary concern around the practice of the black market  and organ trade.  The cryobooks reference  anthropodermic bibliopegy, the practice of binding human skin on books, performed by  medical surgeons in Europe since the 1600’s.  Surgeons used to bind anatomy books with the skin of deceased patients as a form of preservation intended to literally archive and honour the deceased patient’s body. More than vehicles of information, these books spoke to the embodied, visceral and lived life of a body- a reminder that bodily tissues and organs are both material and immaterial histories, subjectivities and impersonal qualities.

Cryobook Archives offers a variety of encounter with a portable library of frozen books made from fixed human and non-human tissues that are transfected with synthetic Lentivirus. In an era of mobile media, portable electronic devices and hyper-mobility of documents, this biotechnological apparatus looks to the past for its future modes of distribution and encounter. The mobile cryolibrary is a small, easily carried wooden box, with a self-contained power source, in keeping with the form of portable libraries used in North America to distribute the latest books to lighthouse outpost workers in the Great Lakes Regions in early period of the Industrial Era. The art gallery (and other sites and situations) becomes the lighthouse outpost that requires a mobile portable device to share the cryobooks  in a hybrid frontier between the worlds of laboratory science and artistic display/conservation. The cryounit allows for the books to be mobile and portable so that they may be taken outside for a walk, shown to friends, neighbors and strangers outside of the context of the gallery, the library  and science lab. This mobility is intended to visually highlight the deeply embedded and often hidden relationship between viral tissues and the information economy.

This work asks, How might the public encounter with tissue and biotechnological devices used to preserve its integrity offer a rethinking of the status and instrumentalization of bodies in the pursuit of knowledge and information?

thumbnail of VISCERAL_THE LIVING ART EXPERIMENTthumbnail of protocol for cryobooksthumbnail of How to make a portable cryopreservation unit

Please visit for details about the process of making the Cryobook Archives. The artist acknowledges the generous support of The Canada Council for the Arts for the Research-creation of Cryobook Archives. The development of the cryounit is funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Concordia University.

So3 Exhibition, 2015 at Espace Multimedia Gantner, curated by Jens Hauser.