Art and science exhibit “Culture as Medium” grew and evolved through its stay in Baltimore.
“Culture as Medium” colonized Baltimore during April and May, 2106. An art/science exhibit curated by Margaret MacDonald, Culture as Medium brought art work done with or inspired by microbes to Baltimore. Curator MacDonald, partnered with the Baltimore Under Ground Science Space (BUGSS), Project Bridge, and Mostly Microbes to provide the perfect bacterial incubator of art and science. I stumbled onto the exhibit through my now favorite social media outlet – Twitter. Dr. Francois Lapointe, a professor of Biology at University of Montreal, Canada posted an article about his “microbiome selfies”. Reading that he’d be performing next in Baltimore, I contacted him. He quickly put me in touch with the curator of the exhibit, Margaret McDonald. “Culture as Medium” was Margaret’s brain child and thesis project for her Master’s of Fine Arts in Curatorial Practice at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Formally a chemist, Margaret became interested in the intersection of art and science. She knew that Baltimore with its strong artistic and scientific communities was an ideal setting for an art-science exhibit.
Insert Your Cultural Perspective
“Culture as Medium” was a different kind of art exhibit. Entering a gallery area, you won’t find a printed guide telling you about the pieces. Instead, the art is out for you to bring your own interpretations and experiences to. “Culture as Medium” had satellite colonies throughout the city. With some pieces at the Motor House and others at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS). The exhibit both literally and figuratively grew throughout its stay in Baltimore. Images of the old video game “Space Invader” alien emerged on a huge 1 meter2 sheet of agar as the E.coli scientist and artist Dr. Tal Danino had stamped grew.
Other pieces of the exhibit were ephemeral. Dr. Francois-Joseph Lapointe, took two Baltimore microbiome “selfies”, surveys of how his microbiome changed after eating local kimchi and after shaking hands with 1,000 people he met while walking from the Lexington Market area to the Inner Harbor.
Finally, no culture is complete without offspring. To bring the kids on board, BUGSS hosted “It’s Your Culture” a microbially-themed family fun day and “Art with Jeans/Genes”. from painting with different colored bacteria to making denim patches to splice “jeans”, both events incorporated arts and science together to excite families about microscopic life.
Discussions among Microbial Experts
Microbiome research scientists and fermented food experts gathered at BUGSS May 20th for a microbiome panel discussion I organized and moderated. The diverse “culture” of the microbiome panel included a mix of microbiome researchers and local fermented food experts. IGS Bioinformatics Director, Owen White, a self-proclaimed big data-geek, kept the discussion lively and aimed at the public. Dr. White provided insight into both microbiome research findings, but also the complications of federal policy in this emerging and fast-moving field. Another IGS faculty member, Emmanuel Mogodin, discussed his work on the complexity of MRSA colonizations in the nose. Midwife for 19 years, now UMB nursing faculty, Nancy Regan, spoke of the importance of the microbiome during birth and the first few years of a baby’s life. Dr. Regan’s maternal and infant microbiome research dovetailed nicely with the randomized control trials that Noel Mueller, an epidemologist at Johns Hopkins, conducts. Dr. Mueller seeks to move the microbiome field beyond correlating disease and microbiome dybiosis using randomized control trials tracking a patient’s microbiomes during treatment. Meaghan and Shane Carpenter, local fermented foods experts and owners of Hex Ferments, rounded out the panel. Their knowledge of the benefits and history of living, fermented foods and their importance for human health was deep and insightful. Dr. White and other panel members repeatedly thanked the Carpenters for providing nutritious and delicious foods, while educating the public on the importance of fermented foods for human health. Most exciting was the conversations, new connections, and perhaps new collaborations made between the panel members.
The microbiome panel discussion shared below is from the BUGSS YouTube channel.
The microbiome panel discussion put the lid on the uniquely-Baltimore art-science exhibit “Culture as Medium”. Curator Margaret McDonald of MICA, described her vision of the exhibit as one that would grow throughout its stay to bring together the vibrant arts and cutting-edge science communities of Baltimore. “Culture as Medium” accomplished its mission of incorporating Baltimore’s artistic and scientific signature during its run. The exhibit also brought together the arts and science in a different way and a new environment. Now let’s watch what grows from that new inoculum.
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