First Artist Cell Line

Since the ultimate aims of my project involves the establishment of an artist cell line, it is important to acknowledge previous work in this terrain. Indeed, as briefly mentioned in my first post (project background), the first artist cell line was conceptualised in by artist-scientist Craig Hilton and involved the collaborative immortalisation of white blood cells (B-lymphocytes) from fellow artist Billy Apple®. The cells were transformed using the Epstein Barr virus and presented for exhibition in a bioreactor (sterile artificial environment that replicates the conditions inside a human body) with settings customised to Apple’s® own physiology (Hilton 2014).

The Immortalisation of Billy Apple

The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® at Starkwhite Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand, May 2010. (Hilton 2014)

While the project extended on Billy Apple’s® interest in artist branding, by allowing a branded component of the artist (Billy Apple® cells) to live on after his death, the project was also designed to enable the cells to be used for creative and scientific research projects. To facilitate this, the cells were destined for inclusion in the American Type Culture Collection (a central repository and distributions hub for cell lines). A 2014 press release by Starkwhite Gallery, archived via the Ocula Magazine, stated that the cells had been added to the ATCC collection. However, I recently had a look for the cells and could not locate them in the ATCC repository. I checked other biomedical supply companies but also with no success. This makes me curious to find out what happened to them. I plan on going to the source (i.e. Craig Hilton), but this will require further ethics clearance so that I can report his responses as part of my research. But first things first…cell culture clearance takes priority at this stage.


As a fan of the wonderful world of poo, it is also interesting to note that Billy Apple® was also the subject of a microbiome study in which stool samples of the artist taken 45 years apart were used to review changes in gut bacteria (Jayasinghe et. al. 2017).

Hilton, C., 2014. The immortalisation of Billy Apple®: an art-science collaboration. Leonardo47(2), pp.109-113.
Jayasinghe, T.N., Hilton, C., Tsai, P., Apple, B., Shepherd, P., Cutfield, W.S. and O’Sullivan, J.M., 2017. Long-term stability in the gut microbiome over 46 years in the life of Billy Apple®. Human Microbiome Journal5, pp.7-10.
Starkwhite Gallery, 2014, ‘Billy Apple and Craig Hilton:The Analysis of Billy Apple®’, Ocula Magazine, viewed 13 July 2021,

Leave a Reply