[ISEA2011] Paper: Anna Claire Dumitriu – Communicating Bacteria


The “Communicating Bacteria” Project combines bioart, textiles and 3D mapped video projections to explore new research currently being undertaken in the field of bacterial communication. The project a collaboration between artist Anna Dumitriu, microbiologists Dr Simon Park and Dr John Paul and video artist Alex May.

Bacteria have intricate communication capabilities, for example: quorum sensing (voting on issues affecting the colony and signaling their presence to other bacteria); chemotactic signaling (detecting harmful or favourable substances in the environment); and plasmid exchange (e.g. for transfer of antibiotic resistance genes). Using signaling chemicals such as Homoserine Lactone, the bacteria pass on messages to nearby cells, which can be either part of their colony or other living cells (including eukaryotic and plant cells).

The antique whitework (white on white) embroideries are worked in to by hand with delicately stitched images of communicating bacteria whilst additional patterns are created using a genetically modified strain of Chromobacterium violaceum called CV026.  Chromobacterium violaceum is white in its natural state but turns purple when it receives a communication, since bacteria grow in colonies and individual bacteria are continually sending and receiving signals it always appears purple. But the CV026 strain is in effect mute. It can receive a chemical communication signal but cannot send one, so it only turns purple in the presence of a communication from another bacterium. When exposed to unmodified Chromobacterium violaceum it slowly turns purple as the chemical signal spreads.

Around the time of the enlightenment the perversely difficult practice of whitework embroidery was considered to be the highest level of achievement for a woman at the same time that the male counterparts, the “gentleman scientists” began to rigorously study the Earth.  By combining whitework with microbiology Dumitriu considers paradigmatic changes in the process of scientific research.

The final outcome of the project is an installation comprising embroidered textiles with killed bacterial decorations, objects created during the research process and delicate  3D mapped video projections that reveal the bacterial communications behaviours taking place. annadumitriu.tumblr.com

  • Anna Dumitriu’s work blurs the boundaries between art and science. Her installations, interventions and performances use a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria, interactive media and textiles. Her work has a strong international exhibition profile and is held in several major public collections, including the Science Museum in London. She was a member of the e-MobiLArt project (the EU funded European Mobile Lab for Interactive Art) and Artist in Residence/Visiting Research Fellow since 2007 at The Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at Sussex University. She is known for her work as director of “The Institute of Unnecessary Research”, a group of artists and scientists whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries and critiques contemporary research practice. She is currently working on a Wellcome Trust funded art project entitled “Communicating Bacteria”, collaborating as a Vistiting Research Fellow: Artist in Residence with the Adaptive Systems Research Group at The University of Hertfordshire (focussing on social robotics) and is Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence on the on the UK Clinical Research Consortium Project “Modernising Medical Microbiology”. She is a contributing editor to Leonardo Electronic Almanac.  My Robot Companion   unnecessaryresearch.tumblr.com

Full text (PDF) p. 723-725