A Blueprint For Bacterial Life – Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee and Biopolis Centre, Singapore

A Blueprint for Bacterial Life

A current collaborative research project started in 2004, with Scientists from the Scottish Crop Research Institute: Dr Ian Toth and Dr Leighton Pritchard. It involves representational scientific data, visual art and sound, and whether a Science-Art fusion can move the boundaries of visual and audio interpretation.

The full genome sequence of the bacterial potato plant pathogen (Erwinia) carotovora subsp. atroseptica (Eca) has been fully sequenced in a project led by the Scottish Crop Research Institute in collaboration with the Sanger Institute. Shemilt developed a series of prints in 2005 from the scientific data and subesquently animations in two and three dimensions for projection. The artistic re-interpretation of scientific data has contributed to new insights. Rather than simply identifying genes unique tom a pathaogen, the screen prints and animations revealed the presence of other genes present in all of the bacteria, possibly representing genes essential to all forms of bacteria. The pilot stages of the project were funded by a grant from the Mylnefield Trust.

The work has been exhibited and has also been the subject of lectures at international conferences:
Singapore Biopolis Centre (14th January 2006); Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts (16th March 2006); International Erwinia Workshop, Dundee (7-9th July 2006); International Conference on Plant Pathogenic Bacteria, Edinburgh (10-14 July 2006); 22nd CHArt Annual Conference, Birkbeck College University of London (10th November 2006).

 

A Blueprint for Bacterial Life and Art

 

Context and background

Scientists from the Scottish Crop Research Institute have pioneered a method called Genome Diagram, which enables visualisation of billions of gene comparisons simultaneously between over 300 currently sequenced bacterial genomes, including those of human and animal pathogens.
The full genome sequence of the bacterial potato plant pathogen (Erwinia) carotovora subsp. atroseptica (Eca) has been fully sequenced for Blueprint for Bacterial Life and Art. The project reflects on the dynamic nature of biological systems that arise from these static genome sequences; these processes are explored using both visual and sound methods. Blueprint for Bacterial Life and Art investigates whether a Science-Art fusion can move the boundaries of visual and audio interpretation.

 

Aims and objectives

Blueprint for Bacterial Life and Art is a collaboration between artists and scientists which aims to enhance understanding of gene acquisition in bacteria. The project takes this scientifically challenging work outside the fields of biology and medicine and places it into the context of interdisciplinary art. The research involves the application of visual thinking and visualisation methods to the genome data derived from the plant pathogen; using traditional printmaking techniques, digital imaging, animation and sound.

The project aims to have a consequential affect upon the future work of both the scientists and artists involved. The role of the artist should not be that of a mere illustrator: interpretation of the data has had an affect upon the scientific research by enabling the recognition of new patterns in the data, (previously dismissed as background noise) and routes to new analysis. As the process of abstraction influences the mode of visualisation, the form of visualisation affects the future process of abstraction.

The project investigates how complex data and images used by the Genome Diagram, through interpretation and expression in a range of art forms, can help to develop and evolve the scientific tools themselves. This is undertaken by utilising both modern printmaking and 2D/3D computer-generated imagery combined with installation and sound.

A blueprint for bacterial life and art

 

Outputs

As well as developing translational and interpretation prints, a multimedia installation using high-definition animations has been developed, based on the genetic plasticity and evolution of the bacterial pathogens. A number of artworks have also been deployed to aid public engagement with the science.

The artistic re-interpretation of scientific data has contributed to new insights. Rather than simply identifying genes unique to a pathogen, the screen prints and animations revealed the presence of other genes present in all of the bacteria, possibly representing genes essential to all forms of bacteria.

The research has been published in a variety of books, journals and websites, including: Art Practice in a Digital Culture, published by Ashgate in 2010 and The hunt for Submarines in Classical Art; Mappings between scientific invention and artistic inspiration. An exhibition featuring the research in progress was held at the Visual Research Centre at Dundee Contemporary Arts and at the Biopolis Centre, Singapore in 2006. Further exhibitions have been held at the Wellcome Building, Dundee and at the Visual Research Centre in 2011.

Blueprint – click here to download PDF description

Mylnefield Research Services Ltd £9,000 (Value to University of Dundee: £1,350)
03.2005 – present

Intellect Books

Elaine Shemilt
‘A Blueprint for Bacterial Life’
Photograph of Installation
2006
© Elaine Shemilt

Elaine Shemilt
‘A Blueprint for Bacterial Life’
Photograph of Installation
2006
© Elaine Shemilt

Elaine Shemilt
‘A Blueprint for Bacterial Life’
Photograph of Installation
2006
© Elaine Shemilt

Elaine Shemilt
‘A Blueprint for Bacterial Life’
Photograph of Installation
2006
© Elaine Shemilt

Elaine Shemilt
‘A Blueprint for Bacterial Life’
Photograph of Installation
2006
© Elaine Shemilt