Dr. Mehmet Berkmen and artist María Peñil Cobo
Is it possible to make art with bacteria? The answer is visible in the work of several artists and scientists who use microorganisms to create pieces of great beauty and color.
If you want to know more and experiment with this technique, on Wednesday, February 27, microbiologist Mehmet Berkmen (Bacterial Art), principal scientist of New England Biolabs, will give a talk and a worshop on bacterial art.
In his lab, Berkmen —born in Turkey and educated in Vienna, Toronto, London, Houston and Boston— conducts research on genetically engineering bacteria to produce proteins, but also, for almost a decade, has also been dedicated to art.
Together with the Spanish artist María Peñil Cobo, who works mainly with natural media, such as hemp, beeswax, wood, branches, threads and fabrics, both have been developing their work in the field of bacterial art with the aim of “changing the relationship humans have with microbes”, as they explain in their website.
“Using the universal language of art, we would like to bring the invisible to the visible. To familiarize the public with the beauty of bacteria. To engage the public into a deeper understanding and increase their awareness and interactions with the microbial communities in and around us.”
This form of art is based on the use of agar, a gelatinous-like substance that is use as a canvas for microorganisms. Using the natural colors of the different species, or with additional pigments, microorganisms on canvas grow and reveal figures, colors and textures.
“Microbes can be spread around like paint and allowed to grow and create art. Unlike most forms of art, our ‘paint’ is alive, and will live, breathe and grow over time, often in unforeseeable ways”, say the artists.
Visiting the Pasteur Institute of Montevideo as an international professor in the course “Redox Chemistry and Biology of Thiols” (February 18-28), Berkmen will give a talk to approach artists and scientists to the world of bacteria as the medium for artistic expression.