This is the title of the talk given by Anna Dumitriu and Kevin Cole at Bournemouth University and is part of the series of events under the title BLAST which stands for Bournemouth Laboratory of Art Science and Technology. This series is being organised by Vicky Isley and Paul Smith (Boredom Research) and more information can be found at blastevent.net.
Anna’s art is at the forefront of experimentation in microbiology. Kevin is a biomedical scientist who is trained in medical microbiology. Kevin began the presentation explaining that bacteria, once controlled by antibiotics, no longer work all the time as the bacteria has learned to tolerate the antibiotics, through the mutation of genes which ‘repel the antibiotics we throw at them’.
photograph courtesy Paul Smith
He talked about how they are modernising medical microbiology with the development of whole genome sequencing. The data gathered is transferred for doctors in a compressed state, and it is also possible to get a global picture because of the net. It is ‘very exciting work’. Anna has a very good knowledge of microbiology, and she took over the presentation at this point, talking about how ‘picky and tedious’ looking through the DNA samples was. She said that she and Kevin have interesting discussions.
Anna started working in this field eleven-twelve years ago. She is from a Fine Art background, but she became interested in bacteria. She looked for collaboration and found it. She started by mapping the bacteria in her house and used sewing practice to make the art about infection and hidden bacteria. ‘Infective Textiles’ meanwhile was an open lab process at the Lighthouse Gallery, and sponsored by the Arts Catalyst. Bacteria was grown on textiles which were then made safe and turned into a garment.
photograph courtesy Paul Smith
Anna talked about how the bacteria communicate with each other, asking whether they are hungry and doing a ‘headcount’ to see if they can overwhelm an immune system. Then she talked about the MRSA Quilt, which is patterned with MRSA bacteria and then sterilised with antibiotics. Currently there is a lot of work being done on TB. She said that one third of the world’s population suffers from TB. Anna has made a piece, Where There’s Dust There’s Danger. This is made of needle felted wool and dust ‘lungs’ with the extracted DNA of killed TB – in collaboration with Kevin Cole and Dr. John Paul. Of another piece, Rest, Rest and More Rest she talked about how TB used to be thought of as the ‘Romantic Disease’. She made a dress in the style of a maternity dress from the Romantic era which was stained with bacteria.
The Hypersymbiont Enhancement Salon commissioned by the Wellcome Collection was a performance about using bacteria to enhance aspects of the self. Her current project is called Sequence and is interrogating the whole genome sequence. She has also written a book called ‘Trust Me I’m an Artist’ which explores the ethics of working in the lab and the gallery. Favourite bacteria? The Plague and TB!