Bacteria Art and the Extended Self
In the Fall of 2017, my Freshmen Seminar, 'Art and the Contemporary Sublime' used bacteria in order to create art in conjunction with Dr. Gondek's Biology lab. The goal was to investigate the relationship of the very small to the sublime, as well as the threat of 'loss of self' often associated with the sublime.
Students created a series of self portraits that considered the influence of the Microbiome on notions of self and identity. They began with realistic pencil drawn self portraits from life, then they created self portraits from their facebook photos with bacteria in the lab and then lastly they swabbed remnants of their own Microbiome, analyzed the patterns and created abstract self portraits.
They also wrote personal essays about how these art practices changed their views of self. Consider this excerpt by freshman Lillian Herrick:
Bacteria outnumber human cells ten to one, and can apparently influence emotions or urges. Do we really run the world or do they? Or are they us? To bring back the idea of the fear of a loss of self, this is something that definitely comes into play. Do you know yourself if you are, to some extent, being controlled by things you can’t see and some that you have no concept of?