Science of the Unseen Banner

Anna Dumitriu and Alex May

Super-organism: The Living Microbiome

“Super-organism” is an video artwork by Anna Dumitriu and Alex May, which reveals the microscopic bacterial microbiota growing on the human body. These invisible so called ‘normal flora’ bacteria are an important part of what it means to be human, integral to our immune systems, and may even affect our personalities. We are, in fact, super-organisms – whole ecosystems containing many more bacterial cells than human cells.

This video installation juxtaposes close-up high definition macroscopic video footage of the growth of colonies of bacteria with images of the parts of the human body from which they were sampled. The piece shows the huge diversity of ways in which these bacteria grow and spread across a Petri dish filled with agar jelly (a seaweed based growth medium) and how they compete for ‘territory’, sometimes producing their own antibiotics to ward of other bacteria or producing biofilms which help them to spread. The human microbiome is a complex ecosystem that actually forms part of our immune system as our normal flora can prevent the growth of other more dangerous, pathogenic bacteria. However in certain circumstances our normal bacterial flora can cause disease and drug-resistant strains of bacteria, which exist in healthy people in the community, such as MRSA, can be a particular problem if they spread in a healthcare setting.

Media Used: HD video, DIY microbiology Techniques.

Anna Dumitriu is a British artist whose work fuses craft, technology and bioscience to explore our relationship to the microbial world. She is artist in residence on the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at the University of Oxford, and an honorary research fellow at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. She has an international exhibition profile, having exhibited at venues such as Waag Society, Amsterdam, Art Laboratory Berlin, V & A Museum, London and The Picasso Museum, Barcelona.

Alex May is a British artist exploring a wide range of digital technologies, most notably video projection onto physical objects (building on the technique known as video mapping or projection mapping using his own bespoke software), also interactive installations, performance and video art. He is a visiting research fellow: artist in residence in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Hertfordshire.