Diemut Strebe

Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence

Diemut Strebe, Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, and Brian L. Wardle, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the director of the necstlab and Nano-Engineered Composite aerospace STructures (NECST) Consortium, are applying new research in engineered materials and structures to artworks. The necstlab research group’s mission is to lead the advancement and application of new knowledge at the forefront of materials and structures understanding, with contributions in both science and engineering.

The Redemption of Vanity is a 16-carat color diamond covered with a grown “forest” of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The CNTs absorb 99.965 percent of light, creating the blackest black material on earth. Although the diamond and CNTs are the same element—carbon—the different atom lattice structure creates opposing extremes in appearance upon exposure to light, despite being comprised of the same object. The CNTs cast no shadows due to the substance’s unusual light-absorptive properties and therefore obscures its plasticity and three-dimensionality.

For Strebe and Wardle, the literal devaluation from a $2 million stone to a tiny black hole challenges the art market and explores how material and immaterial value is attached to objects and concepts in reference to luxury, society, and art.

The project can also be interpreted as a statement against British artist Anish Kapoor’s purchase of exclusive rights to a formula of carbon nanotubes as a material for artworks. Strebe and Wardle use a different composition of carbon nanotubes, which will be available for any artist to use.

Strebe has collaborated with several MIT faculty, including Noam Chomsky and Robert Langer on Sugababe (2014), Litmus (2014) and Yeast Expression (2015); Seth Lloyd and Dirk Englund on Wigner’s Friends (2014); Alan Guth on Plötzlich (2017); and researchers in William Tisdale’s Lab on The Origin of the Works of Art (2017).

Wardle has previously worked with CAST Visiting Artist Trevor Paglen on The Last Pictures project (2012).

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the MIT necstlab.

Diemut Strebe is a German-born artist based in Boston. Through a variety of styles and media, Strebe links art and science to address contemporary issues, often incorporating themes related to philosophy and literature. Strebe’s heterogeneous style results from the variety of topics and strands in science with which she works, as well as her conceptual approach.

Focused on the advanced science of our era, Strebe affirms the romantic paradigm of “the new” through the medium itself and its combination with art. She describes her practice as using the interface of science and art in the way that gravitational lensing has been used to trace unseen matter.

Strebe explores the crossover between science and art through media such as living and biological materials, experimental setups, installations and video. In her first art-science work, Sugababe (2014), she produced a clone of Vincent van Gogh’s ear. Through Sugababe, Strebe applied the Theseus paradox—a thought experiment based in Plutarch’s Ship of Theseus, which questions whether an object that has all its component parts replaced remains the same object. The work explores the potential and implications of re-creating a historical person and questions the mystification of art and the artist by the public and in art theory.

Strebe collaborates with scientists in the fields of human and plant genetics, quantum physics and astrophysics, and engineering, among others. Her practice includes scientific concepts, methods and tools. She is represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.


More at the artist’s website: Diemut Strebe.

The Guardian: German museum exhibits Van Gogh’s ear replica grown from relative’s cells 

The New York Times: An Unusual van Gogh Work at a German Museum – His Ear

Wall Street Journal: Vincent van Gogh’s 3-D Printed Ear on Display

BBC: Bringing Vincent van Gogh’s ear ‘back to life’

Artsy: Diemut Strebe’s Technologically Advanced Thought Experiments

Boston Magazine: A Local Artist Used Van Gogh’s DNA to Replicate His Ear

artnet: German Museum Has a Living Copy of Van Gogh’s Famous Ear

Al Jazeera: German artist ‘regrows’ severed Van Gogh ear 

artnet: Diemut Strebe: Free Radicals, Sugababe and Other Works

Architectural Digest: New Yorkers Can Find Out What Vincent van Gogh’s Severed Ear Actually Looked Like

CNN: Art imitates life: Artist bioengineers replica of Van Gogh’s ear

Brian L. WardleProfessor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Director of the necstlab and the Nano-Engineered Composite aerospace STructures (NECST) Consortium, MIT

Robert S. Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor and Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering, MIT

Estelle Cohen, Research Scientist, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT

Dr. Luiz Acauan, Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT

Ashley Kaiser, Graduate student, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT

Selected Past Projects