Culture as Medium

Culture: One Word – Many Meanings

This spring – Baltimore will host all meanings of the word culture under one grand exhibition – Culture as Medium. Culture. To some culture is art, music, the symphony, opera, classical literature. Culture is societal. It is something that emerges from our collective. However, culture can also be much smaller, individualized, and active. Conducted by medical professionals and scientists clad in crisp, white lab coats. A culture of bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other microscopic cells can be actively maintained – cultured – in the laboratory under certain conditions. 

Operating at the boundary of biology and art, the exhibition Culture as Medium presents work made with the trillions upon trillions of tiny microbial travelers that live on, in, and around us. Tal DaninoAnna Dumitriu, and François-Joseph Lapointe—the artists and scientists featured in Culture as Medium—use bacteria to create research-based works in prints, performance, video, and fiber. The outcome of their experiments in the studio and lab is a provocative reexamination of what it means to be human. Spread out across different cultural districts in Baltimore City, the exhibition brings art, science, and the public into a three-fold dialogue with each unique space serving as a site for experimentation, ethical conversations, and a platform to present new research.

The exhibition, Culture as Medium, will be taking place in two sites in Baltimore: Motor House, April 1–May 15, 2016 and Baltimore Under Ground Science Space (BUGSS), April 8–May 20, 2016. Associated events include an opening reception at Motor House featuring works by all three artists, a performance of 1000 Handshakes by Francois-Joseph Lapointe, a reception at the Baltimore Under Ground Science Space (BUGSS) to celebrate an art installation by Anna Dumitriu, and a closing reception at BUGSS including a microbiome panel discussion that I’m putting together. Culture as Medium is part of Margaret MacDonald’s thesis exhibition for a Master’s of Fine Arts in Curatorial Practice at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). For more detailed information see the end of the post.

Breaking Down the Walls Between Cultures

Culture as Medium breaks down the walls between these seemingly different meanings of culture. In combining the study and science of microbes with different artistic media, barriers about our world, our place in it,  how we interact with and appreciate other organisms break down. Allowing for the ideal substrate for new ideas to grown and flourish.

To begin to tempt you with the fabulous art that will be making its way to Baltimore in a few weeks, below are some links and videos of previous work done by these scientists and artists. Stay tuned as more details emerge about this exciting exhibit.


Featured Artists

Tal Danino

Using Engineering Bacterial Behavior as Art

Dr. Tal Danino is an Assistant Professor in the Biomedical Engineering Departement at Columbia University in New York. His lab examines the interaction between bacteria and cancer tumors to seek novel methods for diagnosing and treating cancer.  For example, his lab aims to develop a probiotic bacterium that would seek out and deliver toxins to cancerous liver cells. The Danino lab also examines how natural and synthetic gene networks work and can be regulated to improve human and environmental health. Tal Danino also works with a diversity of artists to use bacteria and cancer cells as a medium for art.

Feature article about Tal Danino

Scientific Reesearch in the Danino Lab at Columbia University

 Other Videos and Science Outreach



Francois-Joseph Lapointe

Exploring How Skin Microbiomes Change with Contact



Culture as Medium
The François-Joseph Lapointe, 1000 Handshakes, Montreal perfomance, 2015
(Photo courtesy of François-Joseph Lapointe).

Dr. Francois-Joseph Lapointe is a Full Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Montreal. His biology lab research has examined the genetic diversity in endanged species, examined methods for examining genetic differences across the tree of life, and is now exploring changes in the skin microbiome. Francois-Joseph also holds a doctorate in Art Studies and Practice from the University of Quebec in Montreal. With this exciting dual training in science and dance, he is exploring the intersection of biology and art.

Videos of dance performances

1000 handshakes 

Anna Dumitriu

At the Intersection between Advancing Science and Ethical Issues

Anna Dumitriu is an artist who is interested in the ethical issues for society that emerge alongside advances in science and technology. She was recently an Artist in Residence for the Modernising Medical Microbiology project at the University of Oxford. There she worked alongside researchers conducting experiments and sequencing the pathogens Staphylococcus aureus, some strains of which are resistant to multiple antibiotics, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis. She is currently examining bacterial biofilms at the University of York. For a wide diversity of her work, see her tumblr blog. One of my favorites there is the Bacterial Light Lab. Her work, including Sequence Dress, will be on display at the BUGSS space.  Culture as Medium

 Culture as Medium
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