Symposium Info



Talk Title and Abstract: Towards a Scalar Identity Politics: Bacteria and Embodying the Molecular Self

Précis: This talk explores how recent scientific data on bacteria recasts the human as other, humanities as the inhumanities, and art in terms of the molecular self. For every one human cell in the body, there is one bacterial. This makes humans equally homo sapien and homo microbis, human and bacterial. Based on this data, this talk focuses on how bacteria-based bioart opens spaces of dialogue beyond identity politics rooted in textual or cultural practices alone. Within bacteria-based bioart, identity actualizes at varying scales: biologically in terms of evolution according to the fundamental definitions of “life” as well as culturally at the level of gender and race

Bio: Charissa N. Terranova is a writer and educator. Terranova researches complex biological systems from a cultural purview, focusing on the history of evolutionary theory, biology, and biocentrism in art, architecture, and design. She is author of Art as Organism: Biology and the Evolution of the Digital Image (2016) and Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art (2014), and coeditor with Meredith Tromble of The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She also edited a two-volume issue of the journal Technoetic Arts on “complexism” (2016).

Terranova is currently coediting with Ellen K. Levy D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s Generative Influences in Art, Design, and Architecture: From Forces to Forms, forthcoming from Bloomsbury Press, 2019, and writing a monograph titled Biology in the British Bauhaus: Morphogenic Modernism in Art, Science, and Design. Associate Professor of Aesthetic Studies, she lectures and teaches seminars at the University of Texas at Dallas on modern and contemporary art and architectural history and theory, the history of biology in art and architecture, and media and new media art and theory.

 Inaugural director and curator of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency, Terranova regularly curates and writes art criticism. From September 2015 to February 2016, Terranova collaborated with Davidson College Professor of Biology David Wessner in the SciArt Center NYC’s virtual residency program. As part of the residency, Terranova and Wessner co-curated in February 2016 Gut Instinct: Art, Design, and the Microbiome, an on-line exhibition about art, the gut-brain axis, and gastrointestinal microbiome. In the fall of 2015 at Gray Matters Gallery in Dallas, Texas she curated Chirality: Defiant Mirror Images, an exhibition about art and the scientific concept of “chirality,” or non-superimposable mirror images.

 Terranova holds an MA (2001) and PhD (2004) in architectural history and theory from Harvard University, an MA (1996) in art history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a BA (1992) in art history from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.



Blog Posts


We have begun some preliminary research on simple diet changes. Biology and Art students have been diligently drinking kombucha juice, using an anti bacterial mouthwash and drinking orange juice. The two week test period concludes tomorrow. The data will be sent off for deep sequencing and interpreted by Dr. Gondek and his lab.

Tomorrow my drawing class will be going to Dr Gondek’s lab and doing some sketching of their own incubated bacteria from the microscopes. In the spirit of thinking about the self and where we begin and end in a symbiotic bacterial environment, we will also swab everyone’s hands in the class in different orders and see what grows between us!! Stay tuned for exciting discussions and projects to come.

Our research will culminate in a symposium on Fri 3/23 at the Ithaca College Creative Space Gallery. There will be an exhibition of art and scienctific research. Guest speaker Charisa Terranova will speak about bacteria and notions of identity.





Today we went to the bio lab and got an overview of some fascinating recent discoveries concerning bacteria – such as the c. diff experiments, attraction and bacteria, bacterial colonies in the built environment, the difference in different colonies on the various area of the body and started talking a little about symbiotic bacterial relationships and bacterial communication.

Perhaps most exciting was looking at all of the samples that were incubated from our own bodies to try to see any changes and to identify the shapes of various types of bacteria. One student could see a clear change in the diversity of his bacteria in his samples as the testing came to a close.

We also did a group swab in different orders to see how different the growth is when the bacteria is layered differently.


Today we began the process of drawing our own bacteria samples in order to consider the forms and begin to think about developing images and research. The prompts for the  assignment were introduced:

Bacterial Abstraction

You will sketch shapes and forms from the microscope of your own bacterial samples in order to design an 8 inch square gouache painting on paper. You will use color and composition to explore the more immaterial aspects of your self-concept, together with the bacterial.

 Extended Self Portrait

You will create one large-scale drawing (min 24 x 36 inches) that includes 3 differently scaled portraits of yourself interacting in an imaginative space or scenario that addresses one of the following.

Place: Address an extended view of self in relation to the built vs. natural environment.

Identity Politics: Address an extended view of self in relation to social issues as they relate to identity; sexual objectification, misogyny, sexism, racism, ethnocentrism and any other form of identity bias or discrimination.

Intimacy: Address interpersonal relationships (self vs others- family, intimate partners etc) Where do we end and others start? You may think about family history, genetics or symbiotic bacterial relationships between intimate organisms.





Articles and Media

Bacteria, Identity and the Social:

Social behaivor and the Microbiome

A Symbiotic View Of Life, We Have Never Been Individuals

Click to access Art_in_age.pdf

The Biologistical Construction of Race: fullwiley_soc_studies_science

Poverty and the microbiota:

Gut Feminism (biofeminism): wilson_gut_feminism

Lead exposure and the microbiota:


Homo sapiens vs homomicrobis: helmreich_homomicrobis

Non-binary gender:

Bacteria and the Built and Natural Environments:

Dirt has a microbiome, and it may double as an antidepressant

Bacteria and Intimacy: Where do we end and others begin?

Click to access Foreign%20Bodies%20Press%20Release.pdf

General Art and Science/Bio Collaborations:





Exploring the Bacterial Self

IMG_2658IMG_2661IMG_2666IMG_2669IMG_1199IMG_4385IMG_265820180323_171059_resized.jpgThis collaboration between Biology and Art at Ithaca College focuses on changing notions of selfhood in the context of knowledge about bacteria. Bacteria cells outnumber or are equal 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 area on 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.

Biology students will track the changes in their own and the art student’s microbiome via daily saliva samples after changing one aspect of their diet. Both classes will learn more about the science behind these changes as they chart diet 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 negotiates and imagines a sense of ‘extended self’ one that considers the profound influence of bacteria.