The Mutability of Memories and Fates

The Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells (IES) appointed Anna Dumitriu to the first Artist in Residence Program at the Helmholtz Zentrum München in Germany. Dumitriu’s project, entitled “The Mutability of Memories and Fates” responds to the concept of cellular memory and cell fates, and explores how the cell packages DNA and what impact that has. It focusses on the mutability of the cell, or what controls its constancy, and how this affects gene expression and the nature of life. It explores the desirability of a deeper understanding of cell biology and the significant impacts it will have on healthcare and disease prevention. The completed work will arise from discussions with researchers and through shared poetic and philosophical reflections on the research.

Installation view at the Deutsches Museum, Munich. Image by Claudia Schnugg

Dumitriu is in the process of developing a new body of artworks resulting from a deep exploration of the research taking place at the Institute. The work is being developed through close engagement with the researchers both during physical residencies and online meetings and seminars. Dumitriu is gaining a strong understanding of the projects and methodologies used at the Institute, and learning from the rich knowledge of the scientists and informing herself about the research field. She has already undertaken experiments involving the effect of climate on cell growth and DNA replication, induction of totipotent cells, and visualisation of the way DNA is wrapped in the cell nucleus.

The residency is co-ordinated by Professor Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla (Director of the IES), Amelie J. Kraus (Scientific Coordinator of the Epigenetics@HMGU community), and the art-science curator Dr Claudia Schnugg.


Cellular Reprogramming Necklace

Cellular Reprogramming Necklace” installation view at the Deutsches Museum, Munich

A sculptural necklace physically represents the chromatin structure of the OCT-4 gene. This gene important for inducing an embryonic stem cell-like state, in effect wiping the memory of the cell (at least to a degree) and giving it the potential to become a different kind of cell. In eukaryotic cells (cells with nuclei) DNA is wrapped around histones and the tightness of this binding either prevents or allows the expression of genes. The necklace is embedded with extracted heterochromatin and euchromatin from the OCT-4 gene. Thanks to Maria-Elena Torres Padilla and Adam Burton for their scientific support and Alex May for 3D modelling support.

Cellular Memory

“Cellular Memory” with relics of experiments installation view at the Deutsches Museum, Munich

A fibre based artwork references the difficulties of returning a differentiated cell to the form of a pluripotent stem cell and explores the question of whether cells have memories. In this work the knitted squares have been washed, shrunk through drying, partly unpicked and reknitted. The re-knitted parts still show the scars of the previous knitted form. Thanks to Eleanor Hyland-Stanbrook for her support in knitting.


Induced Totipotent Cells stained with Trypan Blue

A work-in-progress that explores cell differentiation and memory. In the early stages the artist has transformed stem cells (which can become almost any kind of cell) into totipotent cells (which can become any kind of cell). Thanks to Antione Canet, Maria-Elena Torres Padilla and Adam Burton for their support in this project.


A work-in-progress showcase of the artworks took place at the Deutsches Museum in Munich for the 60th Anniversary of the Helmholtz Zentrum on 18th November 2021.

Father and Mother – heterochromatin staining in the cell
Microinjection of Cells