When veiwed in daylight, this silk thread looks rather unremarkable. When the light are turned off though its true nature is revealed. It has been specially infused with bioluminescent bacteria, so that it is both alive and self-illuminating. It nature this bioluminescent light is used for communication and as a lure, so maybe some enhanced spider’s webs next.
Throughout history, mariners have infrequently reported witnessing bizarre nightime displays where the surface of the sea produces an intense, uniform, and sustained glow that extends in all directions to the horizon. This phenomenon has also occassionally been reported in ship’s logs and there is even a fictional account in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. There has been speculation that these events are due to the accumulation of massive populations of natural and marine bioluminescent bacteria and one such “milky sea” was corroborated in 1995 when a satellite imaged a glowing portion of the Ocean, the size of Yorkshire, off the Somalian coast. The light then produced by these bacteria obviously can penetrate from the Earth’s atmosphere, and into space beyond, and so a very long time before we developed the ability to do this, bacteria were sending electromagnetic signals into space, and which could be conceivably be detected by extraterrestrials.
Based on the above findings, this is a largely symbolic, and also very simple, attempt to send a biological electromagnetic signal to other worlds.
A page from a book carefully infused with living bioluminescent bacteria. In a very simple sense, the bacteria self-illumnate the page so that it my be read in the dark without the need for unsustainable electric lighting. Beyond this, the bacteria suffuse that page with a unique and beguling energy of biological origin, the impact of which on the psyche, transcends the words written on the page. I was really shocked to observe that the page, and thus the bacteria, respond to my touch by glowing brighter! Possibly, due to changes in temperature, but remarkable nevertheless that there is a response.
I have an ongoing AHRC funded project with artist Sarah Craske that seeks to examine the relationship between art and science through an analysis of a 300-year-old English copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that Sarah stumbled upon in a corner of an East Kent junk shop. It dates from 1735, and in its nearly 300 years of existence it has passed from reader to reader, picking up layers of biological history (bacteria, viruses, skin cells).
Through Sarah’s research we have found out that the book predates the technology that allowed wood to be converted into paper, and that instead, it pages are made from used clothes (rags). A ready source of such material was from the garments of individuals who had died in their many thousands in hospitals. Given the intimacy of clothing to the body, these rags would have contained human skin cells, bodily fluids, and perhaps even the bacteria that might have caused the infection that killed their original owners. In the context of Ovid’s own stories of Metamorphoses, I find it profound, that this very intimate material with its own hidden biological message, has itself been transformed into the pages of book in this way.
When examined under a microscope, the fibres from these clothes are clearly visible and most of them appear to be bleached and colourless. Occasionally though, the microscope reveals a brightly coloured 300-year-old thread that must have been woven into the fabric of the paper during its making. In a sense, I feel as if these threads are microscopically illustrating Ovid’s text, with their own abbreviated stories of tragedy given their likely origin and processes outline above.
Explicit and close up photographs of plant sexual organs. Steamy! Inspired by and old favourite, Pollen by Jeff Noon.
“There shall be in that rich dust a richer dust concealed”
Over the past bank holiday weekend, I’ve been running DIY/Kitchen Microbiology workshops for Strange Science at the wonderful Eden Project. In a few spare moments that I had, I gathered a ubiquitous grey dust that I found in forgotten corners of The Core building, and examined it under the microscope setup that I had brought with me for the workshops.
The microscope revealed the grey and fragile dust clots to be incredibly complex tangles of textile microfibers (and occasional human hairs), that had silently shed off the clothing of the site’s millions of visitors, and then collected in undusted corners. Not all, but many of these microfibers, will be filaments made of synthetic and petroleum-based materials such as polyester and nylon that are woven together into our fabrics, and as such they represent an insidious form of plastic pollution. The Eden Project is remarkable and important, and takes huge efforts to reduce its impact on the environment, but this demonstrates that how, sometimes despite our best efforts and intentions, we can inadvertently pollute our environments.
The finding of this plastic rich dust at the Eden Project is not of huge environmental issue here, but it does highlight a much more significant environmental concern. When we launder the same clothes that we wore at the Eden Project, the same synthetic microfibres will be released in their thousands, to go down the drain to the sewage treatment plant, and then to finally end up in natural bodies of water. This type of microplastic has been found in all environments examined so far, and laboratory studies have shown it to be environmentally persistent and to have physical and chemical impacts on marine organisms.