The Thackray Museum of Medicine proudly unveils its latest exhibition, ‘Fragile Microbiomes’. Captivating visitors from February to June, this groundbreaking showcase features the inspiring works of internationally acclaimed artist Anna Dumitriu.
As the first contemporary art exhibition at the museum and the first BioArt exhibition to take place in Leeds, ‘Fragile Microbiomes’ pushes traditional artistic boundaries, embracing the transformative power of BioArt – an emerging movement incorporating living media, such as bacteria, DNA, and synthetic biology.
Exploring the microbial world
‘Fragile Microbiomes’ is not just an exhibition, it’s an immersive exploration of the intricate world of microbiology through the lens of modern and contemporary art. From sculptures and installations to video and digital technologies, the exhibit presents a unique fusion of creativity and scientific inquiry.
One of the exhibition’s highlights is Anna’s magnum opus, the ‘Plague Dress’. This extraordinary piece weaves textiles, technology, and microbiology into a masterpiece that blurs the lines between art and science. The dress, surrounded by lavender historically used during the Great Plague of London, symbolizes the delicate balance between human health and the microscopic ecosystems that shape our world. The silk is embedded with the DNA of Yersinia pestis bacteria, offering a profound commentary on the historical spread of the plague.
The exhibition boasts an array of fascinating items, each pushing the boundaries of art and science. From the Microbe Mouth, a necklace featuring handmade porcelain teeth coated with glazes made from oral bacteria to Zenexton, a 3D printed amulet containing a newly developed plague vaccine – Fragile Microbiomes’ offers a varied, thought-provoking experience.
‘Make Do and Mend’ is an altered antique wartime women’s suit patched with silk and linen lace patterned with genetically modified E. coli bacteria, showcasing the fusion of history, fashion, and microbiology. ‘Bacterial Baptism’ tells the story of infant microbiome development through a vintage christening gown, focusing on the bacterium Clostridioides difficile.
Beyond the featured exhibition, the Thackray Museum of Medicine offers a multifaceted experience. Visitors can explore ‘Model’, a video installation depicting a model of the gut, in the Disease Detectives gallery. The apothecary houses ‘Hypersymbiotics: Post Pandemic Edition’, a peculiar apothecary box that draws together various works by the artist.
The sexually transmitted infections (STI) clinic features the ‘Syphilis Dress’, adorned with embroideries impregnated with the sterilised DNA of the Nichols strain of Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum. Meanwhile, the apothecary also hosts ‘Ex Voto, 2016 onwards’, presenting votive offerings stained or dyed with sterilised bacteria, including various species of antibiotics.
Director of collections and programmes, Jamie Taylor, said:
“We are very excited to host an exhibition from an artist as bold and innovative as Anna Dumitriu. Her work speaks to the past, present and future of medicine and microbiology – and the mix of traditional techniques and cutting-edge science is a great fit for Thackray’s outlook. She invites us to see medical objects, including the ones in our own displays and collections, in new and transformative ways.”
Bioartist Anna Dumitriu said:
“I am very honoured to hold this new exhibition in the wonderful location of the Thackray Museum of Medicine. I have been collaborating with Dr Jane Freeman in Leeds for over ten years, and the resulting artworks have been shown worldwide, but this is the first time they have been exhibited together in Leeds. The exhibition also includes projects with other collaborators worldwide, focusing on the microbiome, our fragile microbial ecosystem and the work here aims to explore and engage audiences in this invisible realm.”
Anna’s innovative creations challenge conventional notions, inviting visitors to contemplate the profound connections between humanity and the microbial world. ‘Fragile Microbiomes’ pushes boundaries, sparking conversations about the impact of microbiology on our past, present, and future. The exhibition will run until 23 June 2024 at Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds. More information can be found here.
Article based on press release.