Fragile Microbiome (2024) is a large scale, wall-sized, hand-felted artwork which is embroidered and beaded to represent our intestinal microbiome, the lining of the gut and the rich communities of bacteria that live inside us. It is impregnated with their DNA. The piece also contains bilirubin and biliverdin, two bile pigments which combine to give faeces their brown colour. They also give bruises their diverse colours (red, brown, green, yellow).
If we take antibiotics to treat diseases, they can sometimes reach our guts in sufficient amounts to affect our natural gut bacteria – our microbiome – and damage that fragile ecosystem, like a bruise. This leaves us potentially vulnerable to colonisation with micro-organisms that can go on to cause disease, such as Clostridioides difficile, which can cause very unpleasant and debilitating health issues.
Holes in the felt echo the effects of broad-spectrum antibiotics on the gut, where the normal microbiome dies off in patches, leaving spaces for potentially more dangerous bacteria, a situation known as dysbiosis.
The work was made in collaboration with Dr Jane Freeman and members of the Healthcare Associated Infections Research group, including academic and clinical members of staff at the University of Leeds.
Fragile Microbiome will premiere as part of the solo exhibition “Anna Dumitriu: Fragile Microbiomes” at The Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, UK from 10th February – 23rd June 2024.
Materials: Wet felt, needle felt, beads, embroidery, sterilised gut bacteria from a diverse microbiome bile pigments.