Brazilian multidisciplinary artist Vik Muniz always loves to collaborate with scientists to strive for the ultimate piece of art that combines the perfect balance between matter and meaning. Previous work embodied the use of focused ion beam technology to etch sandcastles into single grains of sand and for his most recent endeavour he teamed up with the talented synthetic biologist Tal Danino, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. Tal Danino got interested in art as a graduate student working on time-lapse images of bacteria when he noticed that his data was much more convincing when it was both beautiful and interesting science.
In wasn’t long after Muniz and Dadino met that they made their first piece of art: a self-portrait of Vic Muniz entirely consisting of living bacteria. This gave rise to their beautiful Colonies series: images of microscopically small cancer cells, bacteria or cells infected with a virus, all arranged into aesthetic patterns that tell a story.
The process of making these images was quite tedious and much more challenging than Dadino had initially expected. Using photolithography techniques (the same technique used by Greg Dunn and Jonty Hurwitz), they first made a master image wafer. Next, they cast a rubber stamp from this wafer to make a sticky image on a Petri dish on which cancer cells and bacteria could grow. After application and binding of the cells, Muniz and Dadino took pictures using a high-powered microscope and stitched individual images together to create the final artwork.
The use of cancer cells to provoke wonder in their work is quite unique since the word ‘cancer’ in itself can elicit a very strong emotional response, because for many people this word immediately reminds them of death. However, art can provide a way to change perspective, create familiarity and hope, and open a dialogue about this awful disease that affects so many of us.
On this matter Vik Muniz says: “It’s quite beautiful to have a picture of cancer cells— something so scary, and so otherworldly— into something that can inspire beauty […] For these things to become part of everybody’s life, you do need a picture. You need a way to experience. That’s a way for artists to partner with scientists— they can provide a vision.”
Important to note is that all proceeds from the Colonies series will go towards funding cancer research! For more information on this marvellous collaboration, visit the personal website of Tal Dadino.
All images are courtesy of Vic Muniz and Tal Danino.