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 photographs below were all created using a bacterial light source. They are part of the medical contents of ‘Box7’, a box kept out of sight containing objects deemed unsuitable for showing or handling at the Old Operating Theatre in London.
Part of St Thomas Hospital, built in the roof space of St Thomas Church around 1822, the Operating Theatre was originally used to operate on the women patients from Dorcas ward. The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, bacterial infections ruled out internal operations.
With thanks to Karen Howell, the Curator.