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Artist Creates the World's First Bio-Engineered Soccer Ball

Artist-cum-scientist John O’Shea hopes his soccer ball, grown from living pig bladder cells, will make us question the future of the life sciences.

"I see this as my love letter to football," explains artist-cum-scientist John O’Shea about creating the world’s first ever bio-engineered soccer ball, grown from living cells. Pink, slimy and appearing very much alive, the Pigs Bladder Football will debut August 30 in Manchester, England as part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival. Put simply, O’Shea promises it "will be a football like nothing you’ve ever seen before."

Inspired by the first successful human bladder transplant in 2006, O’Shea sought to recontextualize this technology with a unique artwork. "Beyond medical applications, I wanted to raise questions about how these procedures will be applied in the 21st century and how will they change the kinds of products and experiences and approaches to life we might have." By looking at these advancements through a new lens the artist encourages us to consider the role life sciences play in our everyday existence. Further, for O’Shea, the idea of engineering a pig’s bladder that could conceptually be tossed around seemed like a playful prospect, "To approach this as a sculptural material rather than something that was just used in medicine seemed really exciting."

O'Shea chose to create a soccer ball because the sport has so many passionate fans—himself included—around the world. "Football is almost like a global language. In a sense anybody can have an opinion about the sport, everybody feels a degree of ownership about it." With this focus, O’Shea also looks at where the sport may be going in the future with a nod to its history, when balls were actually made using animal bladders.

To implement his ideas, O’Shea took a master class in bio art and learned the basic techniques of tissue culture. He also collaborated with clinical engineer Professor John Hunt and Ph.D. student Theun Van Veen who taught him how to use the same scientific practices employed in medical labs to grow cells and tissues outside an animal.

Now, approximately six months and a lot of trial and error later, the first living soccer ball is nearly ready to premier. Those unable to attend the Abandon Normal Devices festival, up through September 7, will still have a chance to see it. O’Shea plans for the piece to travel so that everyone can experience his unconventional "love letter" to sport, science, and art.

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