Cook Me – Black Bile

55eatingaccdc1c.jpgTuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen are having a double exhibition show at the Z33 art center in Hasselt, Belgium. Presenting both finished and ‘in progress’ research projects, the exhibition titled, The Unnatural Animal, explores progress in bioscience and biotechnology but also their impact on our norms and values.

You might remember some of Revital’s previous projects such as The Phantom Recorder and Life Support – Could animals be transformed into medical devices?. Hopefully i’ll manage to catch up with her before the Z33 show closes.

5unnat8f90bf48.jpgUnnatural Animal exhibition – photo by Kristof Vrancken – Z33

In the meantime, this post is going to focus on Tuur Van Balen’s most recent work, Cook Me – Black Bile, which saw him cook with his own blood with the help of leeches. Have a look at the video and see if you can stomach more details about the project:

If you understand dutch, head to Cobra, their video crew followed the designer during his experiment. Smakelijk eten!

Cook Me – Black Bile proposes to make synthetic biology and the new interactions it can trigger within our body part and parcel of a recipe for controlling the feeling of melancholy.

As Tuur explained to me, “by ‘programming’ the DNA of the yeast used in the recipe, the yeast becomes a biosensor. So when it is used to marinade the leech, it can measure a variety of hormones and chemicals in your blood that relate to your mood. On top of that, the yeast can be programmed to also bio-synthesize serotonergic agents (chemicals that alter the levels of serotonine) according to what it senses.”

The advantage this bespoke yeast has oven pills prescribed by doctors to alter levels of serotonin, is that the drugs offer similar amount and composition of chemicals for every individual. Synthetic biology, on the other hand, allows to tailor this (emotional) experience for a specific person at a specific time.


Now back to the recipe. An instrument specially designed by Tuur allows the leech to feed on the forearm and is then used to cook a blood mousse. The parasite’s body reacts with the marinade and with the laughing gas to make the blood mousse.

The blood mousse is accompanied by oyster mushrooms, a redcurrant sauce and blood sorrel.


The recipe is inspired by HippocratesFour Humours theory that sees the body as an entity comprised of four basic substances: yellow bile, blood, phlegm and black bile. This theory inspired bloodletting, a medical practice aimed at restoring both physical and mental health by bringing these bodily fluids back into balance. Each substance is linked to a specific temperament, black bile (gr. melan chole), the fictional of these four fluids, evokes the humour of melancholy.

5unnat0b7395.jpgUnnatural Animal exhibition – photo by Kristof Vrancken – Z33

Cook Me – Black Bile examines the space between ancient beliefs and future unknowns, between nonsense and science, the kitchen and the pharmacy.

The new video of the Pigeon d’Or project is also screened at the show:

Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is part of Alter Nature, an overarching project by Z33, the Hasselt Fashion Museum and CIAP in collaboration with the MAD-faculty, the University of Hasselt, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), KULeuven University and bioSCENTer. Alter Nature: The Unnatural Animal is running until 1 May 2011, at Z33 – house for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium.

alternatureunnaturalanimal-tuurvanbalen-revitalcohen04.jpgTuur van Balen and Revital Cohen in the exhibition The Unnatural Animal Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Also part of Alter Nature: It’s My Island, Alter Nature: We Can, The flying tree.

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