Saturday 30 April 2011

painting with bacteria

So here are some nice pictures of a collaborative work between myself and Dr. Simon Park of the University of Surrey and some bacteria.

The fluffy fractals are the ubiquitous soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides and the red painting fellas are everybody's favourite star of bathroom tile grout and shower curtain, Serratia marcescens, which has the enviable ability to become its own paintbrush by growing extra flagella to swarm with. And secretes its own surfactant in the swarm fluid, which is very handy if you want to dissolve watercolour paint. And uses the river of its swarm fluid to communicate with other members of its colony. Lovely.

All the photos in this post are by Simon Park, and the bacteria collected and cultured by him.

And thanks to Anna Dumitriu for introducing us as part of her fantastic Laboratory Life experience.

Sunday 17 April 2011

How to read paintings

Of course I know that you already know how to read paintings, you look at 'em and see if you feel they resonate with you in any way and then you can say "Oh yeah I get that," or "Well I don't know what you might mean by any of this but I like the look of it," - or not.

But for those of you that do like to feel you Know Things here's a handy device for accounting for the curvature of the space-time continuum on two-dimensional encrusted surfaces. Feel free to knock one out on your 3D printer, the dimensions of the ruler itself are what-fits-in-your-handbag x how-you're-feeling.

Note the canny addition in this model of the grisly Second Zero, the off-at-the-plug Just Not , Not Ever, ugh-I-get-vertigo-just-thinking-about-it Dreadful Nought of Nothingness, to be distinguished from the comfy not-now or not-in-this-case functional zero of life processes and things we can understand

Wednesday 13 April 2011

abstract microscopy

Watercolour paint, agar, the red stuff is a pigmented bacteria, I don't know who, though I have my suspicions. It's alive at this point but the interesting swirls are caused by mixing rather than motility.

Everything went wrong with this, suffered from First Pancake Syndrome but I liked the pictures anyway so I've put them up in case anyone else does.

Sunday 10 April 2011

watching a great film in the garden

A combination of children and bacteria and other small and virulent organisms has turned this old-sink-posing-as-planter into something resembling a toxic waste dump.

Currently sporting this gorgeous biofilm in all the latest must-have spring colours.

how clean is your hose?

Even I am beginning to be a bit revolted by the fascinating biodiversity that was hanging out on the shower head. Perhaps it was a 'don't try this at home' thing after all.

I mean it wasn't really that bad, look!
I mean, it wasn't even "...oh God and I simply must remember to bleach that shower head before The Cleaner gets here and can you just pop a seed bar in Daniel and Nigella's lunchboxes darling yes Nigella I know everyone else gets Blue Ribands but you're getting an organic fair trade unrefined sugar seed bar honestly you don't know how lucky you are and what on earth has that cat got in its mouth now?"

It isn't the colour, or the form, I don't think, but a quality of pustulence. I reckon it's the biofilm that's so recognisably nasty-ass looking. I'm having to remember that this stuff has been daily raining down on me for years with no obvious ill effects.
"Ah yes," I hear you say, "but not in great quorum-sensing globs like that it hasn't, try rubbing that on your hair and see how your volume & shine is..."

Any road, I've got some pink stuff, and it's on the move....

a nice cartoon from

A nice cartoon from

Friday 8 April 2011

so what are little girls made of then?

I grew up with that vile, insidious, orientalist, biochemically inaccurate and indefensibly twee bit of social engineering calling itself a nursery rhyme. No I will not quote it! Neither will I link to it! If you aren't familiar with it, then so much the better, that is probably why you grew up to be such a well-adjusted and sensible person.

What did they think they were doing? Did they not see me reaching for my gun? Why was I expected to believe myself and my sister a pair of sickly confections whereas my bothers (inferior beings) got to be manufactured of active, interesting materials?

Such horseshit. I suppose we are all, to an extent, made of sugars - but equally we are all made of snails.

Those jelly pictures at the bottom are made of leftover agar. I thought about culturing them but I'm a bit superstitious about what-you-make-pictures-of-comes-true and being careful what you wish for...

Thursday 7 April 2011

pro-bacterial paint

I've been making paint for bacteria.

I'm sending it to Dr. Simon Park at the University of Surrey, in the hopes that he'll paint with it and then some bacteria will.

we're right cultured in our house we are

Handbasin tap, shower head, day 3.

I'm looking for Serratia marcescens.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

C.S. I. : Co-operation Scene Investigation

Thought it was high time I put up some pictures of what I got up to at Esra Oskay and Rocio Jungenfeld's 'Weaving Plants' project in the glasshouse at Lauriston Castle last year.

Rocio and Esra were exploring the theme of 'home' - here's my contribution.

I took the microscope along on the bus and pottered round collecting 'evidence' of all kinds of normal interactions and life processes, looking particularly for traces of co-operation, commensalism, mutualism, kindness and fun. Because I wanted to do a sort of inverse of C.S.I. (the telly programme), I wore sensible shoes.

The tiny seedling is a bean from Esra's piece, the micrographs of fibres are mostly from Rocio's, there are photos of a dead wasp and drawings of some of the tiny worms I found in there.

The glasshouse is regularly used for craft workshops, so in addition to the traces of art working going on at the time and of the activities and bodies of the diverse organisms that made the glasshouse their habitat, there were all kinds of bits of glitter and other shiny coloured things nestling in the dust.

I called my own piece 'who's coming to bed with me then?'. The blanket is made of photographs, micrographs and drawings from the glasshouse, along with an assortment of other pictures I have been making and collecting.

One of the things I spent a long time doing was printing digital images onto the thickest, most heavily textured hand made paper I could stuff into my battered old Epson Stylus. The point being that anything that smacks of a dichotomy needs to be enveloped with Messy Reality as soon as possible. (The printer didn't like it, we had words.)

Colours were taken from studies of the lovely autumn skies and grounds of the castle. The bed was made of anything I could find, and the delicious bed-time drink is a nutritious filamentous algal concoction from a puddle behind an outhouse.