Moderator: Pablo Rojas
Artists have responded to non-human agency in the age of cutting age research in multi-directional ways. In my contribution I want to critically analyse a current artistic position referring to biomes as distinct biological communities and particularly to human microbiomes, which can be regarded as a the collection of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present on a human body. My presentation will focus the art project FIFTY PERCENT HUMAN by the Austrian artist Sonja Bäumel (Gerrit Rietveld Academy Amsterdam), which is in search for a critical language, which is carefully balancing our imagination about human-microbe interaction and the great diversity of the human body’s ecosystem, mainly by using artistic, fictional and philosophical research tools.
Biofilms - invisible cities of microbes from the Petri dish to the human body
Although bacteria are invisibly tiny single-cellular creatures, they represent the largest biomass on earth and manage to colonize nearly any site, including the human body. As the human microbiota, they contribute to keeping us healthy and happy. Based on our intimate relationship with them, we have learned to use them for food production and in biotechnology. On the other hand, some bacteria are nasty pathogens that cause infections that remained deadly to us before we discovered antibiotics, i.e. chemical weapons that bacteria themselves use against each other in their fight for food. While we have always envisioned bacteria swimming around as single cells, recent research has shown that they prefer to live in large communies termed 'biofilms'. The bacterial inhabitants of these 'cities of microbes' communicate and cooperate to produce an extracellular matrix of bio-polymers. This matrix not only confers protection, but allows bacterial biofilms to behave like tissues, i.e. to fold and buckle up into striking morphological patterns that even become visible to the naked human eye. By performing rapid morphogenetic movements based on an intricate inner structure, these biofilms are a prime example of 'active matter'.
Make Do and Mend
Anna Dumitriu will discuss her project “Make Do and Mend" which references the 75th anniversary of the first use of penicillin in a human patient in 1941 and takes the form of an altered wartime women's suit marked with the British Board of Trade's utility logo CC41, which stands for 'Controlled Commodity 1941'. The holes and stains in the suit have been patched with silk stained with pink colonies of E. coli bacteria, grown on dye-containing agar. The genomes of these bacteria have been edited using a technique called CRISPR, to remove an ampicillin antibiotic resistance gene and scarlessly patch the break using homologous recombination with a fragment of DNA en-coding the WWII slogan "Make Do and Mend". Ampicillin is part of the penicillin group of antibiotics so with this artistic genomic edit, Dumitriu and Goldberg have used today's technology to return the organism to its pre-antibiotic era state, reflecting on how we might in future control and protect such biotechnological advances.