Mud Painting: Bacterial Microperformativity


Mud Painting: Bacterial Performativity

Bioart Installation

These creative experiments in bioart exhibit “mud paintings” that foreground microbes existing within mud to photosynthesize pigments. As a species grows from individual to colony, their multitudes become visible first as pointillist pigments and then spread to amass horizontal blocks of transient color. As these bacteria express themselves (i.e. live: consume, reproduce, deplete resources, release wastes), they exhaust their habitat and create an altered landscape suitable to a successor. The resulting processes of growth and decay are intimately linked inversions resulting in beautiful transforming colorfield paintings. Not unlike the transformation of seasons, these ‘mud paintings’ are an evolving drama as hordes of shifting agents embody, transform, and move matter with their collective genetics to endlessly re-ify new formulations of the same matter.

In conjunction with a retrospective of 15 years of ‘mud paintings’ at Mann Library Gallery, the artist will create a new living painting to “live” on the first floor of Mann library.  Based on a silk scroll in the Johnson Museum holdings entitled “Autumn Landscape: Red Maples at Tatsuta River” by Reizei Tamechika, Japanese, 1823–1864. She will also develop real-time physical and chemical diagnostic tools (pH, temperature, redox etc) for reporting changes within mud collected by students from Janice Thies’s “Soil Ecology” course. From the frame designed to have a removable face, she will remove the face, take soil samples where ever the colorful bacteria have grown, extract and PCR amplify their DNA in Janice Thies’s lab, and have them sequenced at the Genomics Facilities in BioTech (Peter Schweitzer). Over the course of the installation, she will make high resolution photos to document changes in pigmentation for the creation of a time lapse sequence. By fall, the piece will have the dappled and colorful grandeur of the fall foliage found in our watershed.

  • April - September 2020
  • Albert R. Mann Library

Jenifer Wightman (US)

Jenifer Wightman is pursuing her Ph.D. in Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute while living in Ithaca. Working creatively between art and science, Wightman has taught Biodesign and Sustainable Systems at Parsons and is a research scientist specializing in greenhouse gas mitigation at Cornell. Her bioart work is collected and exhibited internationally, stemming from artistic residencies at Djerassi, Sandbox, Center for Book Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Bronx Museum of Arts, Nordic Arts Center Norway, MacDowell.

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