The Bioluminescent Night Light: biological temazepan

Blue light has a supposed soothing and calming effect. I’ve suffered from moderate insomnia for many years so I decided to find out whether the ethereal blue light emitted by marine bioluminescent bacteria would help me with my problem. Consequently,  I made a bioluminescent Night Light and slept under its influence for 4 days. I have to say that the light is wonderfully comforting, a beguiling faint blue constant throughout the night. In Nature, this form of light is often employed by predators as a lure, and like temazepan, I find that it has unique hypnotic and soporific propeties. Under the light’s infleunce, I sleep like a baby and dream of the sea.

BioPortraits: My sons, Joe and Josh

A few years ago I had an excellent collaboration with an artist called Anne Brodie in which developed the world’s most unusual photobooth. Using the booth we took portraits of people using only the ephemeral blue-green light produced by bioluminescent bacteria (100s of agar plates and 10 litres of culture). Unlike sunlight or artificial light, bacterial bioluminescence is of a pure and refined quality (a single wavelength of ~475 nm), a property that endows it with unique revelatory properties. When a human body is imaged with bacterial light, it does more than illuminate; the light is of a type that penetrates adornments, glamour, and the inconsequential surface features of the face revealing far more about the individual behind it than does the unrefined cocktail of light wavelengths that is sunlight. An example of its properties can be seen in these unique portraits of my children. Joe is usually sensible and quite studious, whilst Josh is constant blur of motion and activity.

Biogenic Designs: white nascence

This is an example from a series of works featuring purely biogenic designs, which explore the inherent creativity and properties of microorganisms. This white design on black cotton is entirely natural, and is made from billions of normally invisible microbiological spores.  In their present context, the spores are dormant, but still potent with unrealised microbiological life. If, however, the design is provided with water and nutrition, then the spores will germinate and it will then become animated with an intricate three dimensional matrix of microbial growth. No longer nascent, the design will only then have realised its full potential.

Bioglyph: visualizing the urban cryptobiotic crust.

Over a period of many years an abandoned table has become covered in a dark patina of microbial growth. It might not look alive, but were we able to observe this thin layer  with a microscope we would find an exotic and miniature forest inhabited by fungi, green algae and cyanobacteria. I call this ubiquitous but overlooked microbiological veneer, the Urban Cryptobiotic Crust (UCC). Here a snail, a leviathan on the scale of the UCC, has fed on this ecology, and in removing it and revealing the sterile manmade substratum beneath, has highlighted the table’s microbiology and etched a telling metric into the extended surface of the table.

Extended Domestica

These were inspired by a visit to a natural history museum, where I saw illuminated jars of dead animals preserved in formaldehyde. I decided to invert this concept, and to take apparently inanimate and mundane domestic items and embed them into to nutritious bacteriological growth medium so that their invisible microflora would flourish, and so that is some sense they would be given, or returned to life. The process is the very antithesis of the act preservation. A collaboration with Anna Dumitriu.

Sustainable Denim: microbial indigo

Indigo, the dye used to stain jeans blue, was traditionally extracted from plants of the genus Indigofera. Today, however, the several thousand tons of indigo used  each year is synthetic and produced by industrial processes with obvious consequences for the environment. This is a project which seeks to develop a sustainable form of indigo using the bacterium Vogesella indigofera. This rare blue naturally pigmented bacterium was originally isolated from a pond that had been used as a dump for highly toxic chemical waste and I find it intriguing that something so beautiful could arise from such a polluted environment.