Organ-machine Hybrid: Experiments in combinations of Animal Organs with Electronic Devices and Robotics for New Artistic Applications

Doo-Sung Yoo

Independent Artist

 Fig 1. Aqua001.c02: Robotic Pig Heart–jellyfish, 2009, Doo-Sung Yoo, robotic devices and pig hearts, ©Doo-Sung Yoo.

Aqua001.c02: Robotic Pig Heart–jellyfish, 2009, Doo-Sung Yoo, robotic devices and pig hearts, ©Doo-Sung Yoo. (Used with permission.)


My current project series, Organ-machine Hybrids, reuses and transforms discarded animal organs, such as pig hearts, pig bladders, and cow tongues, which merge with electronic devices and robotics to become artificial (and artistic) hybrids within my artworks. The hybrids are applied to various art forms, such as installations, kinetic sculptures, visual performance, dance, and electronic music and sound design, which create artistic harmony between the robotics’ motions and the organs’ motions (stimulated by the mechanical and electronic compositions), which also react to a human’s performance or to living animals (fish) in real time, as well as emit computational sounds.

The project series has created five different characters with different organs, such as kinetic sculptures, Lie (Robotic Cow Tongues) and Indigestion (Kinetic Pig Stomach) in 2007; robotic installation, Aqua001.c02: Robotic Pig Heart-jellyfish in 2009; visual and dancing performances, Pig Bladder-clouds in 2009-2010; and robotic performances, Vishtauroborg (human-cow tongue-prostheses hybrid) in 2011-2012.

In the early works of the series, cow tongues and a pig stomach were transformed into mechanical bodies, which included microcontrollers, electronic motors, and cam-mechanical devices, which actuated the organs’ simple artificial movements. The Pig Bladder-clouds were constructed out of dried pig bladders, tree branches, helium-filled plastic trash bags, and electronic LEDs. The multiple flock of floating sculptures (flying pig bladders) created synchronous movements with natural air currents, which were harmonized with a group of dancers’ choreography and other performances, such as visual performance (assembly, butcher), parade, and flash mob in public places.

The Robotic Pig Heart-jellyfish and Vishtauroborg are technically advanced, hybrid models that have computational motion control systems with digital sensors. The computational robotic body enables the integration of a pig heart to submerge and breathe underwater. The programmed motion system is triggered by a water level sensor’s data that changes an amount of buoyancy in the plastic domes (heart-jellyfish body) and gives the appearance of a beating heart inside of the artificial body. In the other advanced hybrid, Vishtauroborg’s robotic body features cow tongues, which are mounted on a dancing performer’s chest and back as the conceptual human-animal-machine hybrid. These mounted robotics seem to be prostheses (robotic arms) on Vishtauroborg’s mechanical body, which collaborate with its natural body (the dancer’s arms and hands) to create rhythmic harmony of choreography and live music, which are created by the cooperation of the motion control system and the computational sound system on the robotic cow tongues and the prostheses.

Backgrounds and Metaphors

These technical attempts follow and materialize the ideas of the “Posthuman,” which conceptually frame the Organ-machine Hybrid project series. [1] My conceptual and artistic hybrids create metaphors for the human body’s ongoing tendencies and attempts to physically and biologically transform itself through technological augmentation. Therefore, the project series focuses on the re–contextualizing of biological materials (animal organs and human body) and implementing technology with robotic devices into new artificial forms, which artistically examine the contexts of new mechanical bodies.

The Organ-machine Hybrid project series also follow the new media art theorist Dmitry Bulatov’s notion, “metabola,” the metamorphic and transformative characteristic of the techno-biological artwork in the current contemporary art. According to his perspective that, “In this new paradigm, the organic merges with the inorganic and the material with the non-material, thus revealing its techno-biological or post-biological character. In introducing the concept of metabolites–that is, the metabolization of non-living matter, the coincidence of changeability and separability, and integration on the basis of differentiation–we are therefore deliberately stressing existing ratios of uncertainty, and in doing so, we are creating a methodology of artistic experimentation in terms of probabilities.” [2]

These concepts are parallel with the philosophical concept of philosopher Dr. Max More’s “Technological Self -Transformation:” a morphological self-freedom in which human beings accelerate the radical technological innovation of the human form and the expansion of human characteristic. [3]

The Robotic Pig Heart-jellyfish seems to be very “lifelike” while actually being a nonliving thing, controlled by computer programming and mechanical motion system. These technological attempts reanimate the pig heart, as it is submerging and floating, which seems to infuse life into the robotic sculpture, which emulates a jellyfish’s submerging and tentacles’ motions. In other words, the Organ-machine Hybrid project’s concept and technique enables the disembodied organ to return to life within the artificial body, which well exemplifies the notion of Bulatov and Dr. More’s arguments in contemporary art and philosophy.

Vishtauroborg’s biological materials (the organs and the human body) are also transformed and modified (physically, not genetically) by the electronic and computational systems. This physical metamorphosis and transformation with technologies illustrate the ongoing scientific issues and agendas of extending human form, creating cyborgs, redesigning human organisms, reusing animal organs in cross-species transplants, and creating robotic prosthetic devices in medical science and genetic engineering in our current scientific society.

As the same conceptual metaphor, the “Pig Bladder-clouds” project was conceptually based on the idea of cross-species hybrids (human-swine hybrid), which originated from a true saga of an old man, Lee Spievack, who regrew his wounded fingertip (which suffered sliced bone and muscle) using a special powder made from the substances of pig bladders. [4] Dr. Steven Badylak of the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine currently researches the medical efficiency of pig bladders for regenerating human organs. [5] In the Pig Bladder-clouds performance, a group of dancers and musicians react the flying pig bladder-sculptures, which create choreographic (visual harmony) performance that celebrates the possibilities of regenerating human organs and creating human-animal hybrids.

Artistic Applications: Interactive Motions and Narratives

The Pig Bladder-clouds and the Robotic Pig Heart-jellyfish explores the notion of artificial movements displayed in real environments, such as within city air currents, crowds of people on the public streets, and fish and water currents in an aquarium. This juxtaposition of the “natural” and “technological unnatural” probes how the artificial works and programmed motions can be harmonized within the disjunction of the different characteristics.

However, from experiences of these juxtapositions, Vishtauroborg explores more complex experimental articulations by adding the real-time interaction techniques to the relationship between the human body (performer’s acts) and robotics (reactions of the organ–machine hybrid). Vishtauroborg probes multiple merges: choreographic “balance” and “unbalance”; “wonderful abstract” (robotic sculpture design) and “techno abstract” (computational voice sound); “grotesque” (organs) and “balletic” (both organs and the dancer’s motions); and “beauty” with “disgust.”

As is the current trend of the robotic performance in the contemporary art, it is significant to note how a human-performer can be connected and harmonize with a machine. Moreover, it is difficult for artists to create and design the features of new hybrid-humans (natural–unnatural) and its atmospheres for artistic articulations. In other words, the old guard of new media artists encountered the roadblock of negative human perception regarding the combination of machine (artificial) and man (natural), which is based on Masahiro Mori’s robotic theory, “Uncanny valley,” in which people respond with revulsion to humanlike robots. [6]

Today’s new media artists (such as me with animal organs) has to create works that help audiences better understand the inevitability (and the practical application) of the once–jarring and disturbing combination of “man and machine” and “nature and technology.” Because we still cannot create a perfect “natural-artificial hybrid,” such as humanlike android or humanoid, and the current technology is still a small leap in the long voyage. I believe that my “Organ-machine Hybrid” project, especially the robotic performance Vishtauroborg, suggests the aesthetic approaches to the issues, and theatrical enhancements by “interweaving–multiple–media–design” (makeup, costume design, sound effects, lighting, and so on) and the ‘real-time interactions’ could smooth the disjunction between human and machine (natural materials and artificial materials), and to show that these hybrids are not merely characters in sci-fi films.

The “real-time interaction” is the core of the conceptual and technical agendas for combining the natural and artificial characteristics, which could fuse the differences, collisions, and confrontations of the different motion-characteristics. Vishtauroborg probes collaborations of “real-time interactions” between the organ-machine prostheses and the dancer’s body to create possibilities of cooperative choreography for creating rhythmic harmony.

To provide technical solutions for the “real–time interactions”, Vishtauroborg has a mechanical motion control system and the computational sound system, which are actuated by digital sensors (gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, infrared sensor, and flex sensors) on the human performer’s arms and the cow tongues. The human performer’s arms’ motion sensors trigger the robotics’ motions, or seven–degrees–of–freedom motions. Meanwhile, the human performer’s hands’ motions actuate both the cow tongues’ wiggling motions and the sound system to manipulate the performer’s own voice sounds and live background music. Simultaneously, the cow tongues’ wiggling motions also actuate the sound system to generate artificial speech sound, such as consonants and vowels sounds. These technical and interactive attempts not only maximize the choreographic techniques for the collaboration of human and the organ-machine prostheses, but also conceptually enhance the characteristic of a human-machine hybrid cyborg exceeding human body limitations (the expansions of degrees of arm movements and the human vocal range).

In order to create artistic value within the collaborative performance between the dancer and the robotic prostheses, Vishtauroborg’s choreography follows in Merce Cunningham’s footsteps, where his improvisation styles working on a computer established a good precedent, such as combining balanced and unbalanced movements while ignoring expressions and music that seem to be mechanical. [7] Vishtauroborg’s motions and sounds are extemporized by the motion sensor’s numerous data linked via the dancer’s arms and hands’ gestures. In order to involve this extemporization of motions and sounds into a new form of the fusion choreography, the dancer needs to promptly react to the machines unexpected movements, for example by using improvised dancing techniques that correspond to the robotics’ various motions and sounds. Moreover, Vishtauroborg’s choreography references Japanese contemporary dance of Kazuo Ohno’s ‘butoh,’ exaggerative face acts and gestures, which are helpful for maximizing the range of Vishtauroborg’s natural body-expressions (from dancer’s body) to reflect the technologically augmented body’s expanded expressions (from robotic prostheses and the cow tongues). [8]

The makeup and costume design enhance the features of the “natural-technological unnatural hybrid”; Vishtauroborg version 2.6 visualized masculine characteristics from the totemic animals, such as the bull symbol of masculinity; and Vishtauroborg version 3.1 visualized androgynous characteristics of a hybrid-human.


The Organ-machine Hybrid project series creates “lifelike” artistic hybrids, which illustrate the metaphors of “extending natural body form”, “expanding functional abilities of the natural body”, “physical redesign organism”, and “reproduction”. The biological medium (animal organs and human body) can be re-contextualized by combining with electronic or robotic devices within artistic articulations.

The project series also conceptually explores the boundary between the notion of “natural” and “technological/unnatural”. The project attempts to harmonize or combine the contrary concepts and characteristics of the two sets of the natural and unnatural materials in various art forms, which raises questions; how do artists solve disjunction or inharmonic visual relationships; and how do artists create the aesthetic points from their robotic creations in conjunction with living things, including human beings?

The latest character of the project series, Vishtauroborg, probes the artistic avenues for media technologies: a technical interactive system actuated in real time between a human, organs, and robotics; and theatrical narrative design for collaborative performance of the human and robotics, such as improvised performing and choreographic motions and sounds that help viewers ingest and maybe empathize with the human-machine hybrid’s extended expression. These materialized technologies could help smooth conflict and confrontation between the natural and technological unnatural. These attempts suggest a new strategy for the aesthetic practice and new forms of robotics in visual performance and performing arts.


1. “Transhumanist FAQ,” Humanity+, (accessed April 5, 2013).
2. Dmitry Bulatov, “Dmitry Bulatov: Techno-Biological Art. The new state of the living,” ART + SCIENCE MEETING, August 7, 2012, (accessed November 4, 2013).
3. Max More, “The Overhuman in the Transhuman,” Journal of Evolution and Technology 21, no. 1 (2010): 1–4, (accessed November 4, 2013).
4. Wyatt Andrews, “Medicine’s Cutting Edge: Re-Growing Organs,” CBSNEWS.COM, February 11, 2009, (accessed November 4, 2013).
5. “What The Doctor Ordered: Building New Body Parts,” NPR, September 21, 2012, (accessed November 4, 2013).
6. Masahiro Mori, “The Uncanny Valley,” IEEE.ORG: AUTOMATION (blog), June 12, 2012, (accessed November 4, 2013).
7. Marcia Siegel, “Giant’s steps,” The Phoenix, August 4, 2009, (accessed November 4, 2013).
8. “Kazuo Ohno,” Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio, accessed April 10, 2013, (accessed November 4, 2013).


Doo Sung Yoo is a Korean new media artist who works in the United States. He explores hybrid art, synthesizing scientific research within artwork, interweaving interdisciplinary media between different professional fields, and finding and discovering the aesthetic possibilities for new art forms. His current focuses are on surpassing the human body form with technological augmentations, which are illustrated in his ongoing project series, the Organ-Machine Hybrids, in which disembodied animal organs are combined with electronic devices within mechanical bodies and the human body.