Art-shocked artist Christoph Büchel plans to turn unsold work (and feces) into lab-grown diamonds

For his latest work, artist-provocateur Christoph Büchel quietly turned all his unsold works into lab-grown diamonds, using DNA taken from his own feces.

To grow these single-carat diamonds in a Swiss lab, the gemstones must thrive on what are called “diamond crystal seeds”. The lab extracts carbon from organic matter in artwork, which is then pressed under high pressure and high temperature for weeks to mimic the growth of diamonds, a process that typically takes place over billions of years.

The artist plans to make 150 diamonds this year and will continue in the years to come. The gesamtkunstwerk, entitled The diamond maker – The estate, will not be completed until Büchel’s death.

This current body of work is produced by the Jena Art Collection in Germany and supported by the Swiss funding body Pro Helvetia. The artist is currently in talks to exhibit the project in collaboration with Fondazione Prada in Milan.

The iconoclastic Swiss artist is known for his projects which have made the headlines and which have sometimes caused controversy. In 2019, Büchel moored a wrecked boat in Venice during the biennale, the same ship that had just carried hundreds of migrants to their deaths when it sank. For his participation in the Venice Biennale 2015, he transformed a historic church into a mosque.

If Büchel’s work is particularly ambitious in terms of both its duration and its scope, there are a few predecessors. In 2015, American conceptual artist Jill Magid used a similar process (minus feces) to transform architect Luis Barragán’s ashes into a lab diamond in a conceptual performance that criticized internal struggles for the famous archives of the architect.

In the 1980s, Italian artist Piero Manzoni canned his droppings and sold them for the price of gold. Büchel cites Manzoni’s work as a reference.

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Christopher S. Washington