BacArt’s mission is to bridge the gap
“The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
– H.P. Lovecraft
Bridging the gap between Humans and Microbes:
Microbes were the first living things to inhabit this planet and have shaped every aspect of our ecosystems for the past 4 billion years. They represent the largest biomass, the most biodiversity, and are essential for recycling key elements and for human health. They are everywhere and all over our bodies, yet are invisible to our eyes. We do not see them nor notice them. Usually, we interact with them only in the context of disease and rot. This imbalanced and misinformed relationship that humans have with their own microbial community causes fear and disgust.
Our core mission is to change the relationship humans have with microbes. Using the universal language of art, we would like to bring the invisible to the visible. To familiarize the public with the beauty of bacteria. To engage the public into a deeper understanding and increase their awareness and interactions with the microbial communities in and around us.
Ultimately to enlighten and disseminate knowledge.
Bridging the gap between Arts and Sciences:
The description of Reality has been artificially split into methods of arts and sciences. This separation is reflected in our academic institutions and taught at a young age to growing minds. The philosophical separation between arts and sciences is rooted in history and culture, not in reality. We believe that the artistic and scientific methodologies of describing reality are equally valid. A holistic approach to describing reality using the methods of arts and science is essential to have a more complete understanding of our world.
Collaborative efforts between artists and scientists is therefore essential in bridging this artificial chasm.
How we bridge the gap:
Using agar, a gelatinous-like substance to fill the petri dish, we create a canvas where the microbes can be spread around like paint and allowed to grow and create art. Unlike most forms of art, our ‘paint’ is alive, and will live, breathe and grow over time, often in unforeseeable ways. It is not constant and the artist does not have full control of its medium. In order to preserve the final artwork, we seal the agar petri dishes with epoxy, thus enabling the viewers to touch and handle the work in safety. We also capture the bacteria growing in time-lapse movies, using a special chamber we built. Currently we are working to expand our art to 3D agar structures and bacterial art jewelry.
Dr. Mehmet Berkmen
Mehmet, also known to his friends as Memo, is a Turkish-born international microbiologist having received his education in Vienna, Toronto, London, Houston and Boston. Memo’s dream since his childhood has been to conduct high level science while at the same time making art using the same scientific methodologies. Memo is currently a Senior Scientist at New England Biolabs where his laboratory conducts research on genetically engineering bacteria to produce proteins.
Maria Peñil Cobo
Maria is a Spanish mixed media artist born in San Vicente de la Barquera, a small fishing village by the Atlantic coast. In 2001, Maria moved to Madrid to study Fine Arts at the University Complutense, where she also completed her Masters in Art Education.
Maria mainly works with natural media, such as hemp, bees wax, wood, branches, thread and fabrics. She is adept at wood carving and sculpture and her main source of inspiration is the natural world. Peñil creates works related to patterns and structures found in nature, organic and primitive shapes that make the observer uncomfortable and warm at the same time.
Maria moved to Beverly, MA in 2010 and soon after met Memo in 2011. Together, they have been exploring making living art with bacteria grown on agar ever since.
BacArt Seminar and Workshop
In order to engage the public and increase their awareness of bacteria in and around us, to enlighten the public of the importance of bacteria for our health and for the Earth’s ecosystem, we conduct Bacterial Art workshops.
Seminar: A 30 minute Power Point presentation is given by Dr. Mehmet Berkmen on the importance of bacteria and their awe inspiring abilities to shape our planet. Dr. Berkmen describes the collaborative adventure that Maria and Memo have been involved in since 2011. The history and significance of bacterial art is also discussed. This seminar is suitable for all ages and for all levels of education.
Workshop: The bacterial art workshop is conducted in a laboratory setting with 20-30 participants. It begins with a 10 minute demonstration by Maria on how to make bacterial art, followed by the participants doing their own bacterial art in 20 to 40 minutes. We usually supply the non-pathogenic colorful bacteria, Arthrobacter (red), Nesterenkonia (yellow) and Deinococcus (orange). The host institution will need to organize the appropriate space to do the workshop. The participants usually need 2-5 LB-plates each to paint on, disposable plastic loops, beakers with bleach to dispose of used loops and common laboratory safety conditions. Once the participants BacArt is complete, the participants write their email or phone# at the side of the plates and the plates are left at room temperature for a week or at 30ºC for several days, allowing the bacteria to grow. Once grown to completion, the hosts can take photos of the agar plates and send the final art to each participant. We do not give the bacteria for the participants to take with them.
Should you be interested in hosting a Seminar and/or Workshop, please do not hesitate to contact us.