Oron Catts

Further information

Country of origin




Oron Catts is the director of SymbioticA, the Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia.


Oron Catts is an artist, researcher and curator whose pioneering work with the Tissue Culture and Art Project which he established in 1996 is considered a leading biological art project. In 2000 he co-founded SymbioticA, an artistic research centre housed within the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, The University of Western Australia. Under Catts’ leadership SymbioticA has gone on to win the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in Hybrid Art (2007) the WA Premier Science Award  (2008) and became a Centre for Excellence in 2008. In 2009 Catts was recognised by Thames & Hudson’s “60 Innovators Shaping our Creative Future” book in the category “Beyond Design”, and by Icon Magazine (UK) as one of the top 20 Designers, “making the future and transforming the way we work”.

Catts interest is Life; more specifically the shifting relations and perceptions of life in the light of new knowledge and it applications. Often working in collaboration with other artists (mainly Dr. Ionat Zurr) and scientists, Catts have developed a body of work that speak volumes about the need for new cultural articulation of evolving concepts of life. Catts was a Research Fellow in Harvard Medical School, a visiting Scholar at the Department of Art and Art History, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor of Design Interaction, Royal College of Arts, London. Catts’ ideas and projects reach beyond the confines of art; his work is often cited as inspiration to diverse areas such as new materials, textiles, design, architecture, ethics, fiction, and food.

In recent years Catts:

  • Curated SemiPermeable (+) at the Powerhouse Museum Sydney
  • Co-curated the exhibition Visceral at the Science Gallery, TCD, Dublin;
  • Produced an Ecological Art show called Adaptation, in Mandurah Western Australia;
  • Had two retrospectives, one at Lazina Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gdansk and the other at Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw;
  • Invited to set up the biological art laboratory Biofilia at Aalto University in 2012
  • Curated/produced the Australian section of Translife, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China;
  • Invited to serve on advisory boards of four major international organisations/initiatives;
  • Invited to be a Science Ambassador for the Chief Scientist of Western Australia;
  • Developed and delivered a hands on Synthetic Biology workshop with Arts Catalyst, UCL, and Synthetic Aesthetic;
  • Was a workshop leader on three Biotech art Workshops and a host of a group at a subarctic workshop;
  • Developed and produced five art and science works/installations;
  • Developed, produced and delivered two food show performances dealing with in-vitro meat;
  • Mentored students and research residents at SymbioticA;
  • (co) wrote five peer reviewed papers;
  • (co) wrote five book chapters;
  • Coedited one book;
  • Was an external reviewer for Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
  • Was Jury member for The Hybrid Arts Category -Prix Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria;
  • Was a referee for numerous job applications and promotions for institutes such as Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Had a 30 minutes documentary about his work produced and aired on ABC Australia;
  • Was invited for sixteen speaker engagements, seven of which were keynotes in prestigious meetings such as:
  • Keynote address at It’s Not What You Think: Communicating Medical Materialities, Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen 8th March 2013
  • 24th European Conference on Biomaterials, Dublin
  • 13th International Conference on the Simulation & synthesis of Living Systems,  Michigan State University,
  • 26th Annual meeting of The Society of Literature, Sciences and The Arts,  Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
  • Keynote at the Biopolitics, Society and Performance Conference,  Trinity College, Dublin.

Some quotes covering Catts’ work:

“Two of the largest science–art schemes raise most of the big questions and provide some answers about the nature of these collaborations. The first, the Sciart grant scheme of the Wellcome Trust, Britain's leading biomedical charity, was introduced in 1996 and has lent its name to the whole area of activity. The second is a laboratory, equipped with experimental apparatus and organic materials but staffed by artists. The SymbioticA research centre at the University of Western Australia, Perth, was inaugurated by artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr as the Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A) in 1996, and was formally incorporated into the university as SymbioticA in 2000.” (Martin Kemp, Nature 470, p334, 2011)

“The most celebrated and influential among all "culture" designers are Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, who in 1996 founded the Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A) at the University of Western Australia in Perth. In 2000, they also established SymbioticA, a collaborative artistic laboratory dedicated to the study and critique of life sciences located within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology that has hosted more than 50 residents, including scientists and philosophers. To describe their tools of the trade—fragments of bodies that are partly grown and partly constructed, and are sustained by artificial means—Catts and Zurr coined the term "semi-living". If the things we surround ourselves with every day can be both manufactured and living, growing entities, "we will begin to take a more responsible attitude towards our environment and curb our destructive consumerism." Paola Anotnelli, NY MOMA senior Design Curator in States of Design 07: Bio-design, Domas Magazine 952 November 2011

“Catts’ SymbioticA laboratory is pioneering that development, and he can take personal credit for lifting biotechnology out of the preserve of medicine and into design” Icon Magazine, Architecture, Design, Culture, UK May 2009

Research project

The Tissue Culture & Art Project

The Tissue Culture & Art Project, initiated in 1996, is an ongoing research project into the use of tissue technologies in artistic practice.

Through the creation of the Semi-Living – a new class of life grown using tissue technology – the TC&A Project probes accepted ideas of life and identity, the concept of self, and the place of human beings in regard to other living beings and the environment. In the current scientific landscape, TC&A plays a valuable role in questioning the new ethics and epistemologies surrounding issues of partial life and the contestable future scenarios being offered.

Catts began his research, along with Ionat Zurr, in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology prior to the establishment of SymbioticA. The two were instrumental along with Professor Miranda Grounds and Professor Stuart Bunt in establishing the space for other artists to gain access to the facilities of the School of Anatomy and Human Biology and continue their research as core SymbioticA Artists in addition to mentoring and training other artists in tissue engineering.

Period of Research

1996 - ongoing

The Autotroph

The Autotroph is part of Adaptation, one of SymbioticA's long-term projects based at Lake Clifton, WA. The Autotroph's initial engineering concept was developed with the assistance of UWA Honours student Ryan Kim.

The Autotroph ironically explores the problems and possibilities of ‘solutions’ to climate change and ecosystem devastation. Lake Clifton is a microcosm of the global ecosystem. The lake and its inhabitants, including the Thrombolites, are under threat due to salinity, urban development pressures, global warming and land misuse. The Autotroph is a playful exploration using technology to engineer solutions for the immense complexity of dealing with ecological issues. Any action postulated raises possibilities of good and harm to different aspects of the ecology, and this is without even considering the unknown unknowns (to quote Rumsfeld). The challenge of this project is to tell the stories of these complexities, but not to solve them.

Period of Research

2009 - 2010