Monday, August 13, 2007

Fern Shadow, Ecoli in Process

This is one of the first successful bacteria paintings, cultivated with the help of Dr. Kristin Baldwin, it was later printed onto paper and stabilized with a coat of resin.

Fern Shadow: Transformed Ecoli Bacteria Print

Here it is printed on paper.

It all Began with this Piece

Dr. Kristin Baldwin was given this piece for her birthday. I made it by laying down threads in thick blankets of glue, and was exploring things two lines might do without touching. And it got her thinking... and next thing I know, she had proposed creating a living paint -- a strain of bacteria that she modified to turn blue when it comes in contact with another chemical -- a chemical I can paint with on petri dishes.

The first handoff

We did our first experiment up at her lab at Columbia one evening in December of 2005-- here she is the following evening, after the plates had had a day in the incubator, handing them off to me so I can go print them up in my apartment. The blurred movement is her demonstrating how to quickly lift off the piece of filter paper to get a good print.

The first plates and prints

December 05 - This is what grew and was printed. I substituted heavy printing paper for the more delicate lab-filter paper and that worked well. I sealed the bugs onto the paper with cytoseal (acrylic resin normally used to seal specimens on glass slides). These prints were beautiful to me -- with distinct colonies of transformed (blue) ecoli and unaltered ecoli (translucent/white) visible. The only problem was that no trace of my hand or brush stroke was visible. Not yet quite the 3-way collaboration we had in mind (scientist, nature, artist). Back to the lab.

Early Bacteria Prints - Learning to Gain Control

These are other prints from further attempts to cultivate this bacteria into images. It took 5 days in the lab to gain some control over the media. When it is "painted" it is in solution and clear, and thus a little tricky to control.

At last, a way to guide my hand

In the lab, trying to find some way to guide making a sharp image on the agar, I realize I have a sketchbook with tracings of shadows -- and discover that I can see and trace these contours through the transparent agar. Phew.

Printed Wildflower Bacteria Painting

The completed print.
April 2006

Ecoli Bacteria Wildflowers - in process

And the guided painting method works -- this time using a very dry plate to minimize running.

Fungi Hunting at STR June'06

Kristin and I brought our work to Montana last June 06, and it caught the imagination of Dr. Dave Sands, a plant pathologist at the University of Montana in Bozeman. He had us all combing the field for signs of "vascular rot" in hopes of finding some colorful fungi we could cultivate to create a different variety of native paints for me to try.Below is our makeshift petri dish (knox gelatin in a pie plate) and Dave extracting some of the fungi to see if we could get it to flourish and make some interesting colors.

It looked like a promising experiment, but our gelatin gave way after a few days and became liquid before the fungi had a chance to grow. Onward and upward.

New Bugs... shipped fresh from MT

Thanks to the folks in Dave Sands' lab at MSU in Bozeman MT, a fresh palette of colors were cultivated off of the roots of an invasive plant species in Nevada (red brome), streaked for purity, and made safe (i.e. won't grow at body temperature). This is how they were sent to me.

Autoclaving the Agar

Dr. Katayoun Chamanay offered to help me cook up the agar and pour the plates in her lab at the New School/Eugene Lang .

Making Paint

Enjoying the luxuries of a pipetteman & bunsen burner, I measure out sterile water into tubes that will later hold dilutions of the bacteria (aka paint).

A Design in Yeast

As I waited for my plates to dry, Katayoun let me experiment with some yeast that had undergone a haploid dissection process, allowing it to turn a lovely reddish pink... here I streaked a bit into the silhouette of the red brome plant.. in preparation for my painting with the bacteria cultivated from that plant. (Photo of the plate on the right = about 1 1/2 days of growing the yeast culture, plate on the left = the guide drawing).

Distribution of Red Brome in Nevada

Here are prints of images of Nevada I grew on the t-soy agar plates using two of the bacteria strains that had been cultivated from the red brome plant -- a black and a red. The red areas show where this invasive plant species is prevalent in Nevada.

Outlines... Solids

Working out how to achieve a thin line of color... and creating a wash of color. The guiding drawing for these was the same shadow cast from a bleeding heart plant in my back garden.

Freshening up the Cultures

I traveled to Montana and got to visit Dr. Sands' lab and the core cultures of my paints. Since my batch was now about a month old, it was time to streak a fresh set of the cultures onto t-soy agar "slants" (in test tubes) - which is what I'm doing here.

Have Cultures... Will Travel

Here Dave and I are at Silver Tip Ranch deep in the heart of Yellowstone Park, setting up our traveling painting lab and introducing another artist, Marianne Perry, to this new material.

Using a few colors at once

Marianne and I tried painting some multi-color designs, using a new blue and also a yellow we discovered growing by chance on one of the plates (likely caused by water from condensation). This is one I tried.

Multi-color paintings

Here is a plate by Marianne in the image of a Castilleja plant (Indian Paintbrush).

Making a Print

Here Marianne presses paper onto the Castilleja image that took about 3 days to grow/develop.

Mandala in Warm Colors

This took about 3 days to grow to this level of color and coverage. I used the orange and a red culture from Dr. Sands' lab, and the strain that resembles Naples Yellow is the one we discovered while at the ranch. We renamed Annex Yellow... our truly local color. They don't appear to fight with each other, nor spread over onto one another. I am starting to think about Rose Windows and Mandalas and their conveyances of faith/religion/spiritual beliefs and practices.