Thackray unveils groundbreaking exhibition: Fragile Microbiomes - Chapter 81
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February 9, 2024

Thackray unveils groundbreaking exhibition: Fragile Microbiomes

An Intersection of Art and Science with BioArtist Anna Dumitriu

Thackray unveils groundbreaking exhibition: Fragile Microbiomes Thackray unveils groundbreaking exhibition: Fragile Microbiomes
Words by: Simon Fogal

Thackray Museum of Medicine is thrilled to announce the launch of its newest and most innovative exhibition, “Fragile Microbiomes,” featuring the captivating works of internationally renowned artist Anna Dumitriu. This groundbreaking temporary exhibition is set to open its doors to the public on February 10th, 2024, offering a unique exploration of modern and contemporary art that delves into the intricacies of the microbial world. The exhibition includes sculptures and installations made using bacteria, DNA, altered vintage objects, 3D printing, textiles, video and digital technologies and will take place until 23rd June 2024. 

About the Exhibition:

Fragile Microbiomes is a bold and thought-provoking showcase that transcends the boundaries of traditional art by seamlessly blending it with science. The exhibition is a testament to the transformative power of BioArt, an emerging art movement incorporating living media, such as bacteria, DNA and synthetic biology.

A highlight of the exhibition is Anna Dumitriu’s masterpiece, the “Plague Dress.” This stunning piece ingeniously weaves textiles, technology, and microbiology together, offering viewers a visceral experience that transcends the boundaries between art and science. Dumitriu’s work contemplates the delicate balance between human health and the microscopic ecosystems that shape our world. The dress is stuffed and surrounded by lavender, which people carried during the Great Plague of London to cover the stench of infection. The silk of the dress references the Silk Road, a key vector for the spread of plague and appliquéd with 17th-Century embroideries, saturated with the DNA of Yersinia pestis bacteria (plague). 

Other incredible items being shown include Microbe Mouth (a necklace with handmade porcelain teeth coated with glazes made from oral bacteria and with a tooth actually grown from a bacterium that produces tooth enamel), Zenexton (a 3D printed amulet that contains a newly developed vaccine against the plague), Disembodied Dysbiosis (a bubbling sculpture based on a living microbial ecosystem that scientists use to learn about the gut microbiome), Make Do and Mend (an altered antique wartime women’s suit. The holes and stains in the suit have been patched with silk and linen lace patterned with pink colonies of E. coli bacteria that have been genetically modified using a technique called CRISPR) and Bacterial Baptism (a vintage christening gown that tells the story of research into how the microbiomes of babies develop, with a focus on the bacterium Clostridioides difficile).

Across the rest of the museum, expect to find: Model (a video installation in collaboration with a digital artist Alex May that shows a gut model) in the Disease Detectives gallery; Hypersymbiotics™: Post Pandemic Edition (a strange apothecary box which draws together many of the artist’s past works) in the Apothecary; Syphilis Dress (a dress with embroideries impregnated with the sterilised DNA of the Nichols strain of the bacterium – Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum) outside the STI clinic; Ex Voto, 2016 onwards (‘votive offerings’ that are hung on ribbons, stained, or dyed with sterilised bacteria, including various species of antibiotics) in the Apothecary.

Director of Collections and Programmes, Jamie Taylor, comments: “We are very excited to host an exhibition from an artist as bold and innovative as Anna Dumitriu. Her work speaks to the past, present and future of medicine and microbiology – and the mix of traditional techniques and cutting-edge science is a great fit for Thackray’s outlook. She invites us to see medical objects, including the ones in our own displays and collections, in new and transformative ways.”

Anna Dumitriu comments on the exhibition: I am very honoured to hold this new exhibition in the wonderful location of the Thackray Museum of Medicine. I have been collaborating with Dr Jane Freeman in Leeds for over ten years, and the resulting artworks have been shown worldwide, but this is the first time they have been exhibited together in Leeds. The exhibition also includes projects with other collaborators worldwide, focusing on the microbiome, our fragile microbial ecosystem and the work here aims to explore and engage audiences in this invisible realm.”

Exhibition Details:

Title: Fragile Microbiomes

Artist: Anna Dumitriu

Dates: 10 Feb to 23 June

Venue: 141 Beckett Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS9 7LN 


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