The Hypersymbiont Dress

Anna Dumitriu

29 Jan
2020
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“The Hypersymbiont Dress” (2013-17) is stained and video mapped with bacteria that may have the potential to enhance us. It draws attention to ways in which our own bacterial flora or even pathogens, could be enhanced to turn us into human super-organisms, with improved creativity, improved health and even improved personalities.

“The Hypersymbiont Dress”

The concept of this artwork comes from new technologies, such as whole genome sequencing and synthetic biology, which allow humans to understand symbiotic bacteria and to find possible ways to drive our own evolution at a cellular level. Despite the advancement of technology, it is undeniable that there are still potential risks. The dress is stained with normal environmental bacteria from a Winogradsky Column (a self-sustaining, self-regulating bacterial ecosystem), Mycobacterium vaccae (a soil bacterium that enhances cognitive function by increasing serotonin levels, tested and proved in rats), MRSA (which can interface with the human nervous system and affect how we feel pain), and Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG) a form of attenuated Bovine Tuberculosis, a bacterium strongly linked to creativity throughout history.

The video mapping on the dress is created from a film of the artists own blood fighting an infection with BCG (which although used as a vaccine for Tuberculosis can also be a human pathogen in its own right in some cases.

Dumitriu safely infected her own white blood cells in vitro in the lab with bovine tuberculosis. Playing with the notional link between tuberculosis and creativity that has frequently appeared throughout history. She worked with Dr Daire Cantillon, Dr Simon Waddell and Professor Martin Llewellyn at Brighton and Sussex Medical School to extract and infect her blood in the lab.

The embroidery silk used on the dress is stained with pigmented soil bacteria. Additional colours and patterns are created using natural and clinical antibiotics such as madder root, woad and Vancomycin. In this collaborative work, artists and scientists try to show potential ways we can shape the behaviour of bacteria, and they propose to consider the potential benefits and risks from a different perspective. Note: This dress has been completely sterilised before exhibition.

The dress was originally commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Taiwan. It was made in collaboration with Dr John Paul, Kevin Cole and  Dr James Price (The Modernising Medical Microbiology Project ), Dr Rosie Sedgwick,. The video mapping version was made with the additional collaboration of digital artist Alex May, and scientists Dr Daire Cantillon, Dr Simon Waddell and Professor Martin Llewellyn (Brighton and Sussex Medical School).

Past Exhibitions

Posthumanist Desire“, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Taiwan. 23rd November 2013 – 12th January 2014, curated by Dr Ming Turner.

“Design Matters”, 5th Base Gallery, Brick Lane, London, curated by Fay Morrow. 31st March – 2nd April 2014.

Parallel Synthesis“, Athens Science Festival, Technopolis, Athens, curated by Christiana Kazakou. 30th April – 4th May 2014.

“Technology and Emotions”, Sentralen, Oslo, Norway. 7th November 2017.

“Machine Divas” at Schaumbad – Freies Atelierhaus Graz, curated by Eva Ursprung as part of steirischerherbst’19. 19th September – 13th October 2019.