The snow is melting. Its white symmetry is beaking. Water’s obedience to gravity is restored. I placed a Petri dish containing anhydrous (lacking water) Copper Sulphate under dripping snow. With the lid on at first, but when this was removed the metronomic note of the freed water is replaced by heat and hissing. The water is being absorbed into the Copper Sulphate to form its blue hydrated form (Blue Vitriol) in an exothermic (heat releasing) reaction and again returned to an immobile crystalline form.
Covered in dust, in a neglected storage area in one of our laboratories is a box labelled “AHLC Rock Lichens”. As you might expect, the box contains collection of rocks, but each one is embellished with a Lichen colony. These beautiful, almost crystalline life forms blend seamlessly with the rocks as if in this instance, geology and biology were a single entity. I’ve discovered that many Lichens fluoresce under ultraviolet light, that is they absorb its energy and then re-emit it at a different and visible wavelength. In simpler terms, they glow in many different colours when exposed to UV light and their appearance is transformed entirely so that they now look like precious minerals or gems rather than biological life. I am minded of Spar-Boxes , a type of folk art unique to the North Pennines, and which were simple cabinets built by miners to display glittering fluorspar crystals and other minerals unearthed during lead mining. This is my Biological Spar Box, made using Lichens and the property of fluorescence, and is an impromptu memorial to the late Dr Tony Chamberlain whose Lichen samples they were.
Over the years, I’ve collected melt water from glaciers wherever I’ve found them and have taken this home intending to isolate ice-nucleating bacteria from the samples. I never actually got around to doing this but in the intervening years I began to appreciate what the samples could represent. I began to see them as premature memorials for a type of geology that is destined for extinction as our planet warms. So that they might become truly appropriate memorials, I developed a process that regenerates the glacial form, transforming the melt waters into a unique crystalline form that is stable at room temperature. The process captures the essence of the original glacial ice, its flow, and internal tensions , but now in a form that is resistant to the impact of climate change and delightfully warm to the touch. Examining the forms closely, it is easy to imagine a time when the Earth’s glaciers have disappeared, and when we might visit these memorials in a museum, and consider them as we do the mounted and fading husks of long extinct animals today.
Today we take antibiotics very much for granted and face a serious problem with the emergence of widespread bacterial antibiotic resistance as a consequence of their inappropriate use. In the years before 1935, bacterial infections were a deadly and an ever-present risk with people routinely dying after very minor scratches or cuts that became infected. This all changed following Gerhard Domagk’s research on Prontosil, which became the first commercially available antibiotic. In its time, Prontosil was seen very much as miracle drug since after taking it patients who were near-death were revived and became healthy again within hours. Penicillin is often credited as the first antibiotic, but in fact Prontosil had been used to effectively treat bacterial infections for nearly a decade prior to the availability of penicillin became available. Dogmak’s work thus helped to save the lives of many millions. This process deliberately trivialises the synthesis of what was once a valuable wonder-drug and asks us to imagine a future where today’s life-saving antibiotics will be ineffective and similarly be put to inconsequential use.
In these videos two precursors, are mixed together and the bright red/orange antibiotic Prontosil forms at the interface.
LuxCouture: This is a textile that shimmers with a beguiling and unique microbial energy. The threads of the cloth are impregnated with an unimaginably complex ecology of natural bioluminescent bacteria. The light that the textile produces has lure-like properties and immediately attracts and captivates the curious but it also has properties and depth far beyond this initial connection for in order to produce light, the bacteria must communicate with themselves, and through this process recognise kin, so that a lone bacterial cell remains dark and only groups of them bioluminesce. Scientifically, this process, through which bacteria communicate with each other, is known as quorum sensing, and the light that bioluminescent bacteria produce is a direct and visible manifestation of this process. More than this though, its energy is a unique memento of ancient and minute organic exchanges that trace back to the first ever connections amongst unicellular organisms, and so eventually to the original sparkles of our own intelligence. This is an early developmental stage for a project that would incorporate this textile into a dress.
A bacterial aurora formed in a liquid culture of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum as it responds to fluctuations in the concentration of oxygen in its environment. The abrupt change in pattern midway through is caused as I interact with them.