Symbiosis

December 24, 2011
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Printing with bacteria

A course at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Wageningen taught Jelte van Abbema how to handle bacteria and their surroundings. Armed with this new knowledge and with the help of a microscope, Abbema began experiments in living font manipulation. According to Abbema, “the page becomes a feeding ground where bacteria can profilate, but it is the surrounding environment that determines the image’s growth potential.”

In recounting his experiences, the designer explains that “for these hungry little creatures to grow they require a nice hot and humid environment and food. Give them this and they basically grow on anything. In order to get the bacteria interested in the paper I used agar (a substance scientists use to cultivate bacteria in the laboratory). Fortunately some of them liked it, and some even started eating the cellulose of the paper. However if you let them grow without rules it immediately becomes chaotic. So to form images I had to control the shape of the bacterial culture right from the outset. For this I used various techniques such as silk-screen printing and old wooden-cut letters. At first the ink on the paper is hardly visible because the quantity of bacteria is minimal. But then, as they start to grow their pigment is unveiled and you begin to see them. In a converted poster box where the paper can reveal its life, messages appear and change through time.”

Contact: Jelte van Abbema, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

For more information, see Transmaterial 3: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment

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