Faces of Bioart: Depicting the Psychology of Petri Dishes and Chromosomes with Suzanne Anker

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Suzanne Anker is a must-know in the BioArt community, with expositions around the world and directing her own BioArt lab in New York. She explores artefacts that have become icons of Biology – such as chromosomes, MRI scans and Petri dishes. 

Around the same time the Human Genome Project was initiated, Anker exhibited Zoosemiotics (1993). Taking its name after the study of animal communications, the exhibition showed stunning bronze sculptures of chromosomes of different animals.

Chromosomes remain popular as distinct visual shapes of our gene. But like with any representation, it can be misleading.

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Anker exhibited the sculptures by positioning a glass flask in front of them, through which one could see different perspectives of the sculptures – amplified, deformed and wrapped.

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The Zoosemiotics exhibition (Credit: Suzanne Anker)

Anker also explored the human fascination with Neurology – i.e. ‘Neuroculture‘ through her exhibition, MRI butterfly (2012). Read her essay on the subject for Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

A superposition of brain scans, butterfly pictures and different Rorschach-style inkblots creates a visual illusion, intended to leave the public wondering about perception and the function of our brains.

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Images featured on MRI butterfly exhibition (Credit: Suzanne Anker).

More recently, Anker began working with Petri dishes. A humble laboratory utensil, the Petri dish became (according to Anker) an icon of things brewing inside with intense adverse psychological reactions.

Captured by the this concept, Anker went back to the concept of vanitas  a type of still art highlighting human endeavours and fatality (e.g. depicting skulls), to remind us that we are mortal (lovely!).

She then created Vanitas in a Petri Dish (2013), with different natural objects in decay and using the Petri dish as a sort of 3D canvas.

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Images from exhibitions: Vanitas in Petri Dish (top), Remote Sensing (middle), Rainbow Loom (bottom). (Credit: Suzanne Anker)

She also used the Petri dishes for the Remote Sensing (2013) project, a 3D-printed landscape obtained from color and texture data of the previous vanitas, and in Rainbow Loom (2014), for which she combined synthetic and natural objects picked up in China, arranged in a rainbow.

Anker is an influential BioArtist, with many publications (even a radio show on BioArt!) and being the director of a art/biology lab in New York.


Editor’s Addition: Opening this Weekend at the Art Laboratory Berlin: Human Microbiome

Just today me and Claire got back from the press preview of the exhibition ‘Non-Human Subjectives: The Other Selves. On the Phenomenon of the Microbiome‘.

As a European centre for BioArtists, the Art Laboratory Berlin has pretty much seen everyone, including Suzanne Anker, come and exhibit their best over the past 9 years it has been running.

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A selection of the Artists’ work being exhibited at the gallery this weekend…(Credit: Art Laboratory Berlin)

The exhibition, which opens tonight looks to challenge the complex relationship we have with our microbiomes today.

It is featuring works by François-Joseph Lapointe (Canada), Saša Spačal with Mirjan Švagelj and Anil Podgornik (Slovenia), Tarsh Bates (Australia) and Joana Ricou (Portugal).

I highly recommend visiting if you happen to be about – there will also be a talk from 3pm on Sunday at the gallery, where each of the artists (all in Berlin for this weekend) will explain their projects on the Human Microbiome and their public engagement – including the final piece for the 1000 Handshakes at F.J. Lapointe performance at the opening to the Berlin Transmediale festival 2 weeks ago.


Check out Anker’s SVA Art and Science Laboratory…

SVA Bio Art Lab – Suzanne Anker from SVA Fine Arts on Vimeo.


Feature image credit: art by Suzanne Anker (left) and Suzanne Anker at Artist Talk (right)
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