Extra Credit – Invisible Earthlings by Michelle Wong

Yesterday I attended the exhibition by Beatriz Da Costa, called “Invisible Earthlings,” at the California NanoSystem Institute.  The “invisible Earthlings” were referring to the microbes, which she defined as
“small size, not visible to human eye, [yet they’re] social actors.” This exhibit was to inform the public what relationships we have with them. The microbes reside in our ecosystems and in our human digestive tracts, and yet we don’t notice them until they cause negative health effects.  Her exhibits attack the question of how can we function if we deny the existence of billions of actors? All this was displayed on the wall when we first walked into the exhibit.

The installation was rather very simple.  Around the room there were six Nokia N800 and a couple of petri dishes displayed in front of them. Inside the petri dishes were bacteria samples that Beatriz Da Costa had swab from various places in her house, such as her porch and her gate. She grew the bacteria colonies, analyzed, and classified each plate to identify the microbes.  The bacteria’s name and background information were all displayed in and interactive presentation on the Nokia N800’s.

I really liked the exhibit because Beatriz swabbed bacteria from everyday areas and thus making it easier to the public. I think this is a great piece to bring awareness to the public that there are in fact “invisible earthlings” that share the environment with us. The bacteria colonies itself are a piece of the art. The patterns and colors that they displayed were unique. Some of the colonies that I found pleasant on the screen were staphylococcus, yeast lactobacillus, and bacillus.

The installation was in a small room, not particularly well lit but I think that serves a purpose. Bacteria, or in this case, microbes tend to grow better in damp and dark areas. I think the exhibit itself is giving us humans a glimpse into the microbes’ environment.  Furthermore, the way how Beatriz presented the topic of microbes was unique. If she has presented it in a lecture, which I originally thought it was, it would have been less amusing and some audience (especially tired students) may have dozed off. But her exhibit was rather interactive and interesting.  

I think her purpose of bring the public awareness of microbes was very meaningful. Generally scientists and students who were studying the topic would do further research in it. I would assume that the general public would have little knowledge about them except when they are sick and refer the microbes as “germs.” I think the artist is trying to break the association between the word “germs” and “microbe” because it is definitely a misconception, at least scientifically.  I would attend her exhibit again and hopefully she would continue this installation and bring to us more artistic representation of the microbes that we come into contact with on a daily basis. One of the most important lessons that I learned is that there are millions and millions of microbes surrounding us at any given moment, good or bad microbes – we just have to look at it from a different perspective.


By Michelle Wong


Comments are closed.