Bioart and Bacteria - The Artwork of Anna Dumitriu

Sequence   Super-organism   [micro]biologies: the bacterial sublime   The Romantic Disease   Modernising Medical Microbiology   Communicating Bacteria   Infective Textiles   Hypersymbiont Salon   Hypersymbiont Dress   The Art and Science of Linen   Normal Flora   Cybernetic Bacteria   Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0   KryoLab   BioReactor   Normal Flora Exhibition   Germ Theory   Gone Viral   Workshops   Talks   Publications   Books   Biography/Contact   

Anna Dumitriu is an artist whose work blurs the boundaries between art and science with a strong interest in microbiology and the ethical issues raised by emerging technologies. Her installations, interventions and performances use a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria, robotics, interactive technologies, and textiles. See links to projects above.
Modernising Medical Microbiology

Anna Dumitriu received a Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Award in 2011 to work with the Modernising Medical Microbiology project led by The University of Oxford, Nuffield Centre for Clinical Medicine, which looks at the changing face of medical microbiology in light of the possibilities of (near) real-time whole genome mapping of bacteria and developments in bioinformatics. Work also takes place on the project in Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham. Since 2012 she has been invited to continue in the artist in residence role and further develop her work. As part of her residency she is shadowing researchers working with Tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus (and its drug resistant form MRSA), Norovirus and Clostridium dificile. The aim of the project is to develop new artworks, investigate the aesthetic and cultural implications of the research and to communicate the impact of new technologies in microbiology and how they will improve understanding, diagnosis, treatment and control of infections. It is becoming possible to sequence whole bacterial genomes, make comparisons and even see whether bacteria carry genes for drug resistance. Bacteria are the most diverse and successful life-forms on Earth and with this technology we can know them a little better.

Her solo exhibtion “The Romantic Disease: An artistic investigation” is described here.

The spa gene (surface protein A gene) of the Staphylococcus aureus (non MRSA) found to be living in Dumitriu’s nose was spa type t015, which corresponds to sequence type ST45 (not the most common type seen in hospitals). By making her colonisation with Staphylococcus aureus explicit, Dumitriu is demonstrating the gap between the media’s presentation of this bug and the scientific reality. The point being we are colonised by a huge number of bacteria, many of which are integral to our well-being. The science behind this work is revealing that there is a far greater story to be told than the “dirty hospitals” rhetoric of the press and Dumitriu’s work offers a way in to the story for many people who would otherwise have no access to it. Quilts are a traditional way of passing down stories. Dumitriu’s MRSA project continues and on 14th March 2012 Dumitriu ran a MRSA/MSSA quilt making workshop at the Biomedical Research Open Day as part of Oxford Science Festival. Dumitriu worked in close collaboration with Dr John Paul, Dr James Price and Kevin Cole of the project and is grateful for James’ invaluable support in developing the techniques used to produce the quilt.

Dumitriu also developed her performance the “Hypersymbiont Enhancement Salon” in response to this work, for the Wellcome Trust “Superhuman” exhibition. See here. A new textile work “The Hypersymbiont Enhancement Dress” is currently in development for an exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Taiwan.

The team presented this research at the Mutamorphosis II Conference at the New Stage in Prague in December 2012 in a panel called “Confronting the Bacterial Sublime: Whole Genome Sequencing, Microbiology and Bioart”. See images here.

Dumitriu’s paper and experience of handling dangerous pathogens is documented here.

Dumitriu has also now been trained to shadow work safely in a Category 3 Laboratory and is developing a new exhibition entitled “The Romantic Disease: An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis”. TB is the world’s largest infectious killer and is carried by around one third of the population of this planet. The show will investigate contemporary research, microbiology techniques, the development of antibiotics, superstition and history of medicine. The new work will be presented in January - March 2014 at Watermans Gallery in London. See here for more information.

The MRSA Quilt and other work from the project was exhibited at R-Space at The Linen Rooms in Lisburn, Northern Ireland until 17th September 2011. It was then exhibited at the V & A Museum in London where it was shown as part of the Digital Design Weekend for the London Design Festival on 24th and 25th September 2011, and as part of a major solo show “Bioart Responses to Modernising Medical Microbiology" at the Barn Gallery, St John’s College at the University of Oxford.

The work has also travelled to the USA to be exhibited as part of “Gone Viral: Medical Science and Contemporary Textile Art” at The Jesse and Marion Art Gallery at The Rockefeller Art Centre at The State University of New York between March and April 2013.

As part of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Open Day, Anna Dumitriu led a ‘drop in’ MRSA/MSSA (Methicillin resistant and susceptible Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) quilt making session. Participants were able to create quilt squares using natural and clinical antibiotics on Chromogenic agar and then the squares were (remotely) inoculated with bacteria and the results can be seen below. They were used to create a new artwork which was exhibited at Anna Dumitriu’s forthcoming show at St John’s College Barn Gallery in Oxford in May 2012. Participants were able to learn about new developments and technologies in microbiology and have the opportunity to ask her and her colleague biomedical scientist Kevin Cole, all the questions they have always wondered about bacteria in a relaxed and creative atmosphere. The event took place at the Biomedical Research Centre, Churchill Hospital. Oxford, UK on Wednesday 14th March 2012. The work will be shown at The Barn Gallery, St Johns College, University of Oxford 23rd - 27th May 2012 as part of Anna Dumitriu’s exhibition “Normal Flora: Bioart Responses To Modernising Medical Microbiology”. More information about workshops with Anna Dumitriu can be found here.

The resulting artwork “Becoming Resistant: MSSA to MRSA” (below) was selected for the Research and Art Exhibition at International Conference on Research Infrastructure (ICRI2014) in Athens and was awarded a distinction.

Another MRSA Quilt making workshop and show a tell session took place at the V & A Museum in London at the Digital Design Weekend on 21st and 22nd September 2013. See more information here.

A participatory workshop will take place as part of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Open Day on 19th May 2014.