Exploring the Bacterial Self

This collaboration between Biology and Art at Ithaca College focuses on changing notions of selfhood in the context of knowledge about the microbiome. The collaboration  considers the profound influence of bacteria on notions of self, and the implications thereof on the humanities.
Bacteria cells are thought to be equal to or outnumber human cells and bacterial colonies on one part of your body can be more similar to another person’s bacteria on the same part of the body than to another part of your own body. Discoveries like these have a profound impact on health research but also imply a major paradigm shift in how we think about ourselves in the context of selfhood, identity as well as our place in the universe. Differences between organisms and their environments fade as interrelationships, the holobiome and transindividuation become more important.

The biology students will track the changes in their own and art student’s microbiome via daily saliva samples after changing one aspect of their diet. Students will learn more about the science behind these changes as they chart daily habits and behaviors. Biology students will examine the results using what they are learning in their microbiology curriculum. The art students will use the data and images to create art that deals with extended notions of self- this will include portraiture, both traditional, biological and hybrid that considers the profound influence of bacteria.

Dr. Charissa Terranova gave a lecture titled Towards a Scalar Identity Politics:
Bacteria and Embodying the Molecular (pdf under Symposium section of blog)


Biology student presents her research
Interactive viewing of bacteria at the Symposium
Installation shot