Normal Flora - An Everyday Bacteria Art Project

By Isla Harvey | 28 February 2007
close up photo of needlepoint mimicking the patterns of bacteria

Chair Flora 1, detail of needlepoint. © the artist

A Brighton artist has been busy collecting bacteria as research for her three-part exhibition titled Normal Flora. The work of the artist, Anna Dumitriu, explores the myriad of microorganisms that co-exist with us in our day-to-day lives.

The results will be shown at Eastbourne District General Hospital from 19 February to 25 March 2007. But don’t worry, there won’t be an MRSA germ in sight, the art focuses on the friendly or harmless bacteria that surround us in our domestic lives.

With the help of hospital staff in Eastbourne Dumitriu has collected samples of everyday bacteria in Petri dishes, enlarging and developing them into a number of artworks. One piece titled, Chair Flora 1, began as a discarded chair. Samples of bacteria were then swabbed from it and enlarged. The unearthly patters and shapes of this bacterium were then hand stitched onto the seat of the chair, and carved into its frame.

photo of four petri dishes with agar jelly in them and spots of bacteria growing

Petri dishes from the project containing bacteria samples from a kitchen sink and a cat. Courtesy the artist

Dumitriu, who is based at Phoenix Arts in Brighton, states: “Bacteria is a vast beautiful eco-system so big, that it is almost impossible to imagine.”

“My aim in Normal Flora is, through art, to bring the subject to public awareness and to generate a response like the philosopher Edmund Burke describes in The sublime and the Beautiful: The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature… is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror.”

microscope image of bacteria in the form of lots of round beads in random formation

Phone Flora. Anna is offering images of bacteria as mobile phone wallpaper. © the artist

On March 15, Dumitriu will be hosting a day of live events at Eastbourne hospital. Visitors will be able to get involved in activities and observe the installations and digital works on display. The finale of Normal Flora will be held at The Fringe Gallery, Kensington Street, Brighton, in summer 2007.

Normal Flora has been an extensive year-long project which has received funding from Arts Council England. An earlier part of the project was The Food Research Event at Brighton Marina in 2006. Giant billboards and projections displayed bacterial images and facts such as: “There are more bacteria on the end of your finger than there are people living in the world today,” and, “ Normal flora are vital to our immune systems.”

Eastbourne District General Hospital is on King’s Drive, Eastbourne, BN21 2UD.

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