Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Good Bacteria (and not in the Dr Shakamoto sense of the term)

Bacteria. What are they good for? 'Absolutely nothing!' is what stupid people cry.

I won't go into all the brilliant things bacteria do because I'd be here all day. Lets just say they do more for this country than David Cameron. One of the many amazing things they do, which is relevant for my blog, is make pictures.

There are basically lots of clever artists and arty scientists out there who use bacteria to create fantastic works of art. Apparently the first person to ever do this kind of thing was Alexander Flemming, who one day got a bit bored of discovering penicillin and decided to use his microscopic friends to draw a pretty picture of a stick man in his petri dish instead. Jenius!

What I love about bacterial art is that the final piece of work has been created by billions of behind the scenes artists – the bacteria – while the 'artist' dictates what they all do and gives them all their materials and chemical compounds; like Andy Warhol.

Since I'm new to the world of blogging and this week they've been handing out 4 year prison sentences for typing words on Facebook, I'll only infringe the copyright of one picture on my blog today. The winner is Dr Daro Montag.

Montag uses the idea that the world is the result of interacting events in his work. He creates art with microbes (bacteria and fungi), but sometimes breaks out a toad or a few worms from his cabinet. My favourite things he does is let microbes throw a party on photographic film and the observer is treated to a view of the morning after.

My favourite piece by Montag (called 'This Earth') was crated by burying five strips of colour film in the ground and leaving them there for a month. Microbes living in the soil feasted on the film and in the process absorbed different amounts of its dyes, degrading the negatives and leaving this pattern (once the film was developed).

Picture taken from 'Art + Science Now' by Stephen Wilson.

One of the project's goals was to 'make physical that which is there but not seen'. I love this idea. It feels like the bacteria have been given cameras and asked to document their underground life. The only thing that could have made the project better is if some mathematical equations had emerged in the darkroom. I also love the fact that when seen up close, the film looks like a picture from the Hubble telescope. I'm sure there's some sort of cosmic significance in the fact that both things, large and small, look pretty much the same and can only be seen through magnifying lenses. God or aliens, if you're listening, please post your cosmic explanation below.

If you're interested, the specific colours and shapes the bacteria form are a direct result of external stimuli (things like temperature and food). These influences can be due to the actions of the artist, or just because of what other micro-organisms have brought to the party (some add drugs like penicillin to the mix).

More artists like this can be found here.

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