An Artist Dyes Clothes and Quilts With Tuberculosis and Staph Bacteria


Walk into Watermans, a theatre and arts exhibition space in West London, and you'll come across a series of intriguing installations: early 20th century medical artifacts, a dress colored with natural dyes that were used as early (and relatively ineffective) treatments for tuberculosis and dozens of tiny lungs made out of felt and tacked to the wall, each infused with dust (once believed to cause TB) and the DNA of killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the microorganism that actually causes the dreaded disease).

The exhibition, "The Romantic Disease," is an artistic exploration of our relationship with tuberculosis, touching on topics such as early superstitions surrounding infection, the eventual development of effective antibiotics and the latest research into the bacterium's genome. For the artist, Brighton-based Anna Dumitriu, creating an art installation that involved culturing pathogenic bacteria and incorporating them—either symbolically or literally—into clothing and textiles is nothing new.

"They are such a rich vein of artistic inspiration," she says. "Everywhere you look, there are bacteria and other microorganisms, even if you can't see them."Dumitriu, who's created a number of different projects that combine textile design and bacterial cell cultures, first got interested in microbiology as a child, when she learned about the Great Plague in school. Then, about a decade ago, she began thinking about how the press continually presented new findings on bacteria as terrifying, overlooking the fact that many strains of these microbes are essential for the healthy functioning of the human body.Dumitriu started her first project, Normal Flora, in 2004, partly in response to watching the BBC show "How Clean is Your House?"—which involves the sampling of bacteria from people's houses to convey how dirty they are—and wanted to visually communicate the fact that bacteria naturally cover every surface we touch and reveal more about their intricate behaviors. To do so, she worked with a microbiologist to culture bacteria from her own house, then decorated pieces of furniture and other household objects with blown-up images of the bacteria originally found on them, rendering the invisible microbes visible. She also embroidered chairs and engraved cutlery with bacteria-inspired designs.One of her latest projects, "Communicating Bacteria," highlights the remarkable ability of some bacteria strains to emit chemicals to coordinate activity (such as expressing a gene for antibiotic resistance) based on their population size (a process known as quorum sensing). Working with microbiologists Simon Park and John Paul, Dumitriu drew a pattern on an early 20th century dress with a genetically-modified strain of Chromobacterium violaceum, which is normally colorless but turns purple when it receives this sort of chemical communication.The bacteria's growth was filmed by Park, and video artist Alex May mapped a timelapse video of the spreading colonies (seen at 1:35 in the video below) onto the dress that projected while it's on display in an exhibition.

 
Source : www.smithsonianmag.com      2014/2/25 09:37

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