Vascular Corrosion Casting
At Techno Glow, the application options for our glow-in-the-dark paints and powders are limitless. Our goal is to provide a high-quality product that can be incorporated into any project. We have recently been partnering with artists to discuss their work and how Techno Glow helps add another layer of artistic detail to their projects. Some applications are straight-forward, but some artists like Gavin Burland operate outside of traditional artistic avenues. Gavin is a plastination or vascular corrosion casting expert. You might be asking yourself, “What is plastination?” That is ok because we had no idea what was going on the first time we came across his Instagram account: @plastinationvet. After a quick google search, we realized we had to set up a zoom call to learn more. Below is our interview with this remarkable scientist.
Techno Glow: How did you become involved with plastination?
Gavin: I initially went to university to study human anatomy. From there, I got a job at a human medicine teaching facility where I first learned about the corrosion casting process. I spent six years doing on-the-job training and eventually transitioned into working on animals. All the techniques I was taught were the same thing Gunther von Hagens would have used for Body Worlds. Body Worlds was the first plastination exhibition to receive substantial attention, with the first showing in Tokyo in 1995. Eventually, another, more recent plastination exhibition called "Real Bodies" visited Australia, and I had the opportunity to work with them as a technical ambassador. I worked with them to develop corrosion casting workshops, which I now run with a local Australian company, Rest in Pieces, where we now run a 2-day workshop to produce a corrosion cast of a sheep heart.
TG: What is the rough overview of the plastination process?
Gavin: Plastination or corrosion casting is using biological tissue to create an anatomically correct sculpture. We begin by working on a specimen as close to fresh as possible, ideally within 24 hours of the animal dying. Once we have the sheep's heart, the first thing is to close all the arteries except one that will be used to inject the resin. We don't worry about all the individual veins because they are very fragile, and it would take a lot of resin to fill them. Once the arteries have been sealed, it's time to mix the epoxy resin with the glow powder or any other color we want to use. Even though a sheep's heart is not very big, each heart requires approximately 100 ml of resin. We pump a little more resin in than the typical amount of blood found in a heart for a couple of reasons. The first is resin is thicker than blood, so by adding a little more pressure when pumping it in, we can make sure the arteries are dilated to show all the little details in the final cast. The second is resin tends to shrink a little bit when drying, so by adding a little bit more initially, we are still left with an anatomically correct size at the end. Once all the resin has been pumped in, you seal the main connector and wait for the resin to harden. This process typically takes a couple of hours, but that depends on the specific resin's drying time. After the resin has cured, it is time to remove the remaining tissue so that only the resin cast remains through a process is called maceration. I like using potassium hydroxide because it is much safer than sodium hydroxide. The heart is placed in a mixture of potassium hydroxide and water, which slowly eats away the remaining tissue and muscle. What remains is an anatomically accurate cast of the sheep heart's artery structure.
TG: Where do your samples come from?
Gavin: I buy a sheep pluck from a local butcher. A "pluck" is the heart, lung, and liver still attached. It's important to note these organs are fit for human consumption. There are no concerns about diseases, and these animals have already been killed for meat. I'm making use of the organs which would have otherwise gone to waste.
TG: Do you just do hearts? Or other body parts too?
Gavin: It's possible to use plastination on any part of the body, but for my specific application (casting arteries), the more fascinating body parts are hearts and brains. This is because there are many arteries in both body parts, and they are hard to see and study in the living body. Corrosion casting creates an anatomically accurate 3D visual, which is much more exciting and educational to look at than a CT scan or x-ray.
TG: How long does the process take?
Gavin: The whole process takes about seven days if you dissolve the biological tissue at room temperature. If you incubate the heart during the dissolving period at approximately 105° F, you can complete the process in only a few days.
TG: How do you incorporate Techno Glow into the plastination process?
Gavin: Glow-in-the-dark objects have always been a fascination for me. It has been a pet project of mine for about 18 months now, spending a lot of time trying to find the appropriate pigment to work with. All the glow-in-the-dark powders available in Australia are very coarse and thick. When you are dealing with something very finely detailed like an artery in a heart, coarse pigments can clog them and block resin flow. These bigger pigments are also heavy, so they settle to the bottom when casting and don't hold in suspension. The bottom of all my casts came out super grainy. Once I found Techno Glow, I ordered a bunch of different colors and micron sizes to try it out. After six or so trial runs, it seemed to be working, and then I ended up producing the hearts you see in the images.
TG: What do you like about Techno Glow?
Gavin: Techno Glow was the first company I discovered that had multiple micron size options, including the pigment size I was looking for. I primarily use the 15-micron size in green because it glows the brightest, and the powder is fine enough to cast all the very tiny details in an artery. The different color options were certainly a plus too!
Q: Where do finished works end up?
A: Most of my works are for educational purposes and end up in a classroom or as part of a museum. I am available to work on a commission basis if anyone wants to contact me about a custom piece. In addition to my daily work, I also spend time teaching corrosion casting workshops for Rest in Pieces.
Q: Is there a goal to your work?
A: The main goal of my work is to provide access to education not typically available in most universities. Plastination is an art form hidden behind closed doors, and I want to do my part to make the knowledge available to the wider public and allow people to learn this unique skill set. Oddities are becoming more and more popular worldwide, and as the interest grows, we want to make sure people are practicing plastination safely. When I tell people what I do, I often hear, "Oooo, that's disgusting…but tell me more." Oddities and curiosities worldwide are a big market—people really do love this kind of artistic expression. Because of this interest, I work directly with Rest in Pieces, an educational and inspirational institute specializing in the time-honored skill of preserving and presenting fascinating natural specimens. Anyone is welcome to learn with us! Our hard-working team shares a common interest with the dying arts and works together to maintain a wonderful and enlightening community of artists, teachers, and students—a dedicated community sharing in a collective experience through experimenting and learning together.
Simply put, we want to provide access to an education people otherwise wouldn't have. Even at universities, courses like taxidermy, skeletal articulation, corrosion casting, and insect pinning are rarely taught. It might be a skill used in some higher-level classes, but dedicated courses are not readily available. Our goal is to bring these skills back into the educational sphere and provided interested individuals with the opportunity to learn unique and valuable skills in a non-university environment.
Glow in the Dark Powder
Featured glow powders used in above methods.