Extra Credit Blog by Mitch Platter

Yesterday, I attended the exhibit “Invisible Earthlings” by Beatriz Da Costa in the California Nanosystems Institute. The main idea behind the exhibit was to inform more people about the role that microbes play in our environment. The abstract to the project was written on one the first wall to the right when you walked in, and consisted of plain, black font on a beige painted wall. The abstract stated that when people think about our environment or nature, they simply think about plants or animals. People will relish in the rare occasion of a songbird landing on their windowsill, but hardly anyone takes interest in the hundreds of microbes that are sitting on the windowsill as well. Therefore, Beatriz Da Costa stated that the goal of her exhibit was to make people aware of these microbes that are invisible to the human eye and whom literally escape our view.
The way in which Beatriz Da Costa showed us these different microbes was very interesting. On two of the walls of the exhibit, she had hung several Nokia N800’s, which appeared to be palm pilot-like devices. On these Nokia’s where pictures of several different everyday locations; a butterfly fly bush, a garage, a porch, a purple flower, a gate, under a trash can, and a bench.  With a plastic pencil, you were able to touch the screen of the area, and when you hit a certain area, several different microbes would appear on the screen. You could then hit each microbe, and a summary of the type of microbe would come up. This summary contained what genus and species microbe it was, how it reproduced, how common they were, what they did in our environment, among other things.  Under each of these palm pilots was a shelf, and on this shelf were petri dishes which contained the samples of microbes that she had collected.
I really enjoyed attending this exhibit, for the simple reason of the way it presented the topic it wanted to cover. The topic was scientific; very few people are aware of microbes, and the terms that were used to describe the microbes were well beyond most people’s comprehension (they were certainly too complex for me). Therefore, if the artist had presented the material in a lecture, a power point, or some other less exciting medium, the meaning of the exhibit would have been completely lost to most people. However, by combining the fields of art and technology into her exhibit, she turned what would been a terribly boring subject into an interactive exhibit that was actually very interesting.

by Mitch Platter

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