Bioluminescent bacteria are widely used in scientific research, usually as internal cellular markers. By inverting this practice and employing bacteria as an external light source, objects and bodies, surfaces and skin are exposed to the soft ethereal glow of the bacteria, establishing new points of contact and visual punctures. What is usually seen under the lens of the microscope is here the source of light that reveals the features of human bodies and enters the world of domesticity.
Exploring the Invisible was a Wellcome Trust funded collaborative project between Artist Anne Brodie, Microbiologist Simon Park, and Writer and Curator Caterina Albano, using a strain of bioluminescent bacteria, Photobacterium phosphoreum, to
explore our ways of interacting with bacteria. Through enquiry and experimentation that transcended the traditional boundaries of art and science, the project developed a body of photographic and video work and live installation that reimagine our encounter with bacteria. The only light used to create the photographs and films came from living bacteria. The images restage the long exposure of the camera lens in the improbable and at times disquieting bioluminescence that gradually fades as the bacteria die.
The archives of Joseph Lister are held in the Wellcome Library, beautifully folded, stored and wrapped in ribbon.
They give an insight into who Joseph was; a man who bought a lot of biscuits, gave money to the poor, sometimes forgot to take his library books back, moaned to his sister Mary about not having time to write.
His personal and surgical notebooks chart the development of his theories on bacterial infection and the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic agent. There are records of pivotal discoveries, connections and communication with Louis Pasteur, but there are also records of the mistakes, the scorings out - ‘the carbolic acid was too strong’ , ‘it didn’t work’
We used the bacterial light to illuminate Joseph Lister and in doing so felt we brought him out of the archive and back to life for just a short time.
This was made possible with the help of Rowan De Saulles, and the archivists at the Wellcome library. Thanks also to photographer Vaughan Forbes for all his help and advice.