The Icon 20/20 Designers: Oron Catts/Ionat Zurr 01.05.09

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victimless leather

The "victimless" leather jacket

In 2004 Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr grew a tiny "victimless leather" jacket in a large test tube. Harvested from human and mouse cells, it was the first time living tissue had been grown into anything resembling a commercial product, and it sparked feverish speculation about the possible future of design. Catts, however, who is based with his partner Zurr at the University of Western Australia in Perth, intended it as an object for ethical debate. That's why, even though he trained as an industrial designer, he prefers to call himself an artist: "Because this is a disturbing area, and people believe designers more than they believe artists."

He feels that many of the designers currently being influenced by his work misunderstand it, and that biotech design itself is being over-hyped - tissue engineering is still a long way from producing functional objects. Nevertheless, 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. "In the next 10 to 15 years we'll see tissue-engineered meat products on the market," he says. And he wants us all to think about how we feel about that.

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