A handbag made from human skin?

A Slovenian fashion student wants to make fashion accessories using the late Alexander McQueen’s cloned skin. Her idea may be a bit creepy, but is it really an ethical concern?

The student, Tina Gorjanc, will showcase a proposal in this year’s Central St Martins degree show, for creating handbags using the skin of the celebrated, often controversial, couturiere McQueen, who died in 2010. She’s applied for a patent for a method to grow McQueen’s skin from his DNA and hopes to convert his hide into luxury leather goods.

This is not the first time human skin has been used for the purposes of art. In 2014, Italian artist Diemut Strebe used genetic samples from one of Vincent Van Gogh’s relatives in order to grow a living replica of the famed Dutch artist’s even more famous ear.

Scientists believe that Ms Gorjanc’s idea is plausible, but doubt whether she can grow enough skin to create a full line of accessories.

Commenting on Ms Gorjanc’s proposal, The Guardian’s Jonathon Jones writes “The idea of making art with human bodies disturbs me – with its self-evident degradation of our respect for each other.” He goes on to write: “Are we entering the era of cloned celebrity art and sculptures, not to mention clothes, made with people’s skin? And if so, what are the ethics of this?”

Many of you may, or may not, be aware of The Human Canvas, Tim Steiner, who, as living art, sat on display at MONA in Tasmania for 500 hours. The Swiss-born Mr Steiner volunteered to be tattooed and displayed as living art and has since ‘sold’ his back to a German art collector, so that when Tim dies, his skin will be removed and his art will go on ‘living’.

Is this ethical? Maybe, maybe not. Legal? I’ll leave that to the lawyers. It does, however, propose an interesting question of ethics in itself. If someone gives permission for their bodies to be used as art, then, really, is there a problem with that?

In his time, Alexander McQueen was known as l’enfant terrible of the fashion world. Tina Gorjanc’s idea to use his cloned skin for luxury leather goods would probably please him no end. If McQueen’s family gives permission for this somewhat macabre artwork, then it should be allowed and the question of ethics made redundant.

tina gorjancs human skin handbag

And it would be remiss of me not to venture into the ethical considerations of the billions of animals slaughtered and sometimes skinned alive in order to make bags, shoes, belts and a multitude of fashion accessories and clothes in which humans daily parade. I’m no angel when it comes to wearing leather and eating meat, but it doesn’t prevent me from questioning the ethics of doing so.

Empathy is a powerful by-product of viewing compelling art. And Ms Gorjanc’s artwork may just encourage some empathy for and awareness of the plight of the animals we skin for our own clothes. And that can’t be such a bad thing. Creepy? Probably. But at least Ms Gorjanc’s idea involves lab-grown skin. She’s not asking to murder and skin a person.

And so long as permission is granted, and no one is hurt, who’s to say Ms Gorjanc’s idea is unethical? Although a representative from Alexander McQueen has stated: “Contrary to some press reports the company was not approached about this project nor have we ever endorsed it.”

Who knows, in 20 years’ time our bloated human population may mean human-skin handbags are seen as more ethical, because there’ll be no option, especially if there’s no land left to raise livestock for leather. Human leather could, in fact, become a new ‘ethical’ source of material for mass production.

At the end of the day, it’s refreshing to see that art still has the power to make people question their beliefs, ethics and moral concerns. There was a time before reality TV and the 24-hour media cycle when art was a powerful motivator for such thinking. Maybe this is a reminder that art is still relevant.

Read more at www.mirror.co.uk

What do you think of Ms Gorjanc’s idea? Does it raise ethical concerns? Would you wear an accessory made from human leather?

Related articles:
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The hidden cost of fast fashion
How to choose the right handbag

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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