This piece explores the microbiological sublime : that rarely glimpsed world of cells, microbes, funghi, pathogens and neurons that make up our bodies in numbers and on a scale of which we can barely conceive.
It is a world explored almost uniquely by scientists, the world of the electron microscope, the scanner and the petri dish: the world of the expert and the specialist. They guard their secrets and their knowledge carefully; the layman, the public, you and me, are excluded.
But we can see, we have eyes, even if our vision is limited and to a certain extent invalidated by lack of technical knowledge. We see this strange, exotic, beautiful world and are filled with both wonder and fear. Fear of the otherness of our own selves, fear of the incomprehensible, unimaginable scale, not of what is around us but what is inside us, indeed what is us.
“Outbreak” is an imagined representation of the human body at its smallest scale; eight sculptures painstakingly hand cut from layers of humble paper, one delicate organic material used to describe another. It was inspired by a seminar I attended with a group of scientists researching the bacteria that colonises the human body, otherwise known as the Human Biome. My objective was to create a piece that showcases the beauty of the bacterial world in order to modify our negative perception of bacteria, as the overwhelming majority of the microbes that inhabit us are beneficial, helping our bodies to function by breaking down food, extracting vitamins and fighting illnesses.
I was also struck during this meeting by how little science knows about this cutting edge field of research; for the moment scientists are merely trying to identify what varieties of bacteria there are in our bodies. The limitations of science, dwarfed by the sheer scale and power of nature (the human body comprises 30 000 genes but we carry 4 million bacterial genes) is figured in the sculpture by the break out of bacterial forms from one of the domes. Our attempts to control, define and master nature are shown to be limited.