(in)trepid cultures




That Beauty that hath terror in it.

-- William Wordsworth

It is possible to agree with the radical cultural critic Mike Davis that panic and an ecology of fear increasingly defines modern society. The cultural and social worlds we inhabit are being transformed in unexpected, and often, uncontrollable ways. Microbes, the oldest forms of life on earth, terrify us: an invisible invader with the possibility of contaminating our cellular lives. Yet all of us are biological hosts, housing a vast and thriving community of micro-organisms. Coexisting within us symbiotically, microbes mostly do us no harm. It is those 'other' microbes, the ones that cross over from insects or animals or different ecologies, that artfully become pathogenic, causing illness, or even death, escalating fear and terror.

Located in the precarious intersection between art and science, (in)trepid cultures is an installation that considers biology as contemporary art practice, concentrating on the paradoxical beauty of micro-organisms and the daily – and often societal – fear they generate.

To explore the boundaries between art and science, I have cultured Halobacterium sp. NRC-1, an ancient bacterium that lives in a high salt environment (such as the Dead Sea and Great Salt Lake). Culturing these living microorganisms in petri dishes involved setting up a laboratory in my studio. With a microscope and digital camera, I photographed the growth of these brightly coloured colonies. Their subtle abstractions and natural beauty is apparent, and even though the bacterial colonies are non-pathogenic, they inevitably provoke trepidation.

Situated in the new realms of bioart, (in)trepid cultures is the first in a series of installations that is based on the salt-loving and salt-thriving halobacteria, and our ubiquitous fear of microbes.