Today I had the pleasure of attending an exhibition at a new (literally the plaster on the walls was still damp!) art space in Lisburn, my home town in Northern Ireland, called R-Space. It is a great little hidaway for new artistic and craft based talent just off Lisburn’s Castle Street.
The opening of the exhibition space was marked by the presence of conceptual artist/craftsperson/science enthusiast, Anna Dumitriu. Dumitriu’s work focuses on the exploration of our perception, and the more poetic properties of microbiology. As some of you might know, the crossing of scientific and artistic disciplines is an area which I have great interest in, so I felt very lucky to be back home at the time of this exhibition.
Dumitriu is a major international artist in this growing field of art/biology, and has close links with a long list of scientific and artistic bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, Kings College, The Dublin Science Museum and Oxford University to name a few. By the looks of her website she seems to devote as much time to the scientific rigor of her research as she does to the artwork she produces.
This exhibition “Normal Flora” refers to the natural bacterial ecosystems which exist all around us, but which we are oblivious to. They produce, when studied closely, a beautiful and unusual garden of blossoming cultures which Dumitriu exploited and manipulates to create interesting embroidered garments.
Using tools and procedures more commonly associated with bio-engineers, she seduces the cultures of bacteria she cultures into performing for her, creating colours and patterns to decorate her fabrics. By impregnating thread with specific chemicals and anti-bacterial agents, Dumitriu can manipulate how the bacterial cultures grown on the fabrics behave. This technique also lets her weave patterns and produce areas which are inhospitable to the bacteria, or which prompt a reaction from them, producing different colours and patterns.
I enjoyed the show. The work was interesting, and it was also interesting to hear Dumitriu talk about the work and her own interest in the area. I was fascinated to hear of the processes she had used, and her experiences of working with scientific professionals in comparison with my own.
Maybe a little critically though, I didn’t think the work was very groundbreaking or really that new. I’ve grown a little bored of bio-art/design, I think because the area has been a bit saturated with mediocre work since the earlier work about 6-8 years ago when the topic was really fresh. There are still really exciting social and cultural aspects of bio-engineering to be explored, but as is the case when anything starts to become ‘popular’ or less specialised, there are less real cases of creativity and innovative thinking compared to the total amount or work being done. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great projects I have seen in the last few years such as James King’s, Tuur van Balen‘s pigeon d’or and the Material Beliefs project, but there have been more which have left me underwhelmed.
I have looked into this area before myself in my BioSuperstions project, but this too was something I was far from happy with, and would like to revisit in the future to greatly improve. It was maybe the case with Dumitriu’s work that as it was definitely more art than design I found it harder to really appreciate in the same way. I just felt that the grounding was there but it could have developed a little further.
It was fantastic for Lisburn however, and I was really happy to see the local art community getting behind a still somewhat controversial subject. There is a good art scene building in the city now, and it was really encouraging to see not only money, but support from local people for the exhibition. I think Lisburn was the real winner today. Despite what I or others thought of the actual work, it shows a move in the right direction for thought provoking art and culture in the city, that I hope can be nurtured in the new R-Space. So watch this space!