Anna Dumitriu is fascinated by the history and contemporary practice of microbiology and its impact on society and health. As a contemporary artist in the Bio Art genre, she is bringing the science of microbes outside of the lab and into art galleries, encouraging public engagement on her chosen medium, bacteria.
Bio Art is the practice of using living systems as materials. In Anna’s work, she combines practical microbiology with textile crafts, technology and performance. For the past 13 years, Anna has been working hands on in the lab, collaborating with microbiologists on her projects.
As the ‘Artist in Residence’ for the Modernising Medical Microbiology project at the University of Oxford (Oxford, England), she shadowed researchers studying M. tuberculosis and S. aureus, with the goal of developing new works of art. The MRSA Quilt is one piece that came from this collaboration. The quilt is a textile comprised of cotton calico squares that were embedded in chromogenic agar. This bacterial growth medium contains a dye that is absorbed by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria causing them to grow blue and stain the fabric. The patterns on the squares are created using different tools and techniques in the treatment and diagnosis of infections caused by this bacterium and its drug resistant form, known as MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The quilt squares are embroidered with thread dyed with turmeric, a natural antimicrobial.
The MRSA Quilt tells a story of MRSA research and diagnosis with each square. By fusing science and art, Anna is helping to facilitate a discussion between scientists and the general public. Anna has had a fantastic reaction from scientists about her work, saying ” they say it helps them reflect on their work and engage the public in new conversations.”
By fusing science and art, Anna is helping to facilitate a discussion between scientists and the general public.
Anna is starting a new project in 2016 at the University of York (York, England) to explore the issue of antibiotic resistance and the research being undertaken in the search for new antimicrobials. Her residency will lead to a new body of artwork and a participatory public workshop reflecting on the current and future impact of antibiotic resistance and exploring new research, aimed at a diverse, non-scientific audience.
The project will combine textile craft techniques, sculpture, digital technology, and bacterial Bio Art that uses the tools and techniques of microbiology as an artistic medium. It will look at bacterial biofilms (the ‘glue’ bacteria use to attach themselves to surfaces), investigate the role of phages as antimicrobials and explore the impact of antimicrobial resistance in chronic diseases, such as Cystic Fibrosis.
“I am fascinated to embed myself in the research being undertaken at the University of York to artistically explore the urgent hunt for new antimicrobial agents to combat drug resistant infections,” Anna said. Anna will investigate the lifecycle of Streptomyces and develop an affecting artwork around the struggle to synthesise antibiotics, building on her previous artistic work around the history of antibiotics for Tuberculosis.
When asked about the educational value of her art, she said,”I like my work to share the stories and ideas that fascinate me but the works are not intentionally didactic” Her intent is to reach people through aesthetic sensations in a visceral way. “Hopefully they do raise awareness of issues in microbiology and create situations where scientists and members of the public can have conversations and share stories in a non-hierarchical setting.”
So, why has she chosen bacteria as her medium? Her response is simple and wonderful: “They are so strange, amazing and sublime – the more I learn the stranger it gets.”
To view Anna’s artwork, please follow this link: http://www.normalflora.co.uk/
Anna Dumitriu is undertaking an intensive artists residency in the Liu Lab for Synthetic Evolution at the University of California Irvine. The final outcomes will be showcased in “WETWARE: art | agency | animation” at the Beall Center for Art and Technology, curated by Jens Hauser and David Familian.
The exhibition opens on 6th February 2016. Anna will also speak about the project with scientific collaborator Pratik Shah at a LASER symposium at University of California Los Angeles on 4th February 2016.
About the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project: http://www.modmedmicro.ac.uk/
More about Anna Dumitriu and her artwork: http://annadumitriu.tumblr.com/Publications