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Alissa van Asseldonk graduated from the DAE with a book that commodifies the human body.  It is a thrilling and sometimes grotesque reminder of the potential and actual usability of life.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 20-12-2012

Corpus Commodus offers a visual documental of the way human tissue can be harvested, processed, stored and used.  The body is imaginatively mapped to communicate with readers what happens and what else might happen.

It conjures up a similar reaction to Christien Meindertsma’s “PIG 05049”.  Except that rather than talking about a random pig, she is talking about human life that is increasingly affected by technological developments and improvements in biomedical knowledge.

Alissa van Asseldonk was inspired by the secrecy that shrouds the whopping potential of the human body. She wanted to delve in to find out more.  “We know things are happening but how it happens is all a bit vague so even people who donate parts of themselves are not ever really sure.  I think it would be better id the situation were more transparent.”

The secrecy most likely exists because of the massive ethical issues that surround this usage.  It seems almost easier to just avoid it, except that the absence of laws, guidelines and a public debate mean that some rather absurd activities are allowed to continue.

“I have been really surprised by my research,” says Van Asseldonk.  ‘I think recycling our bodies could be a lovely thing, but it has to be done right and it needs openness.  The foreskin cut off during circumcision, for example, is cultivated into new skin and used for burn victims. Placentas donated in hospitals are often given to cosmetic giants that use elements from it for face creams.  There is even a prison in Africa that uses the faeces of the prisoners to generate power.

My book covers every material,” Van Asseldonk continues, “nothing is linked to legal or ethical subjects.  I simply document how the body is being used.”

Van Asseldonk cooperated with researchers from the Rathenau Institute to create this book and says that their reaction to the finished product was very positive.  “They liked that I managed to create a visual language to communicate and very ethical and sensitive subjects,” she says.

Ultimately Van Assendonk is interested in generating a debate.  The body has a high moral value and its physical integrity, like personal privacy, is a basic human right.  So while human tissue is a promising source for the manufacturing of diagnostic and therapeutic aids, as well as a raw material for more common applications in daily life, she wants to ask what we consider permissible?

But for any debate to be relevant a broad awareness of the present possibilities and the way harvesting, processing and usage of human tissue is evolving is necessary.

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