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article imageIllustrating the human body with 'Microcartography'

By Tim Sandle     Oct 17, 2013 in Health
Artist Sonja Bäumel has explored the human skin microbiome in her project 'Cartography of the Human Body'. To illustrate the diversity of the bacteria and fungi on the skin, she cultured isolates from her own body to create an innovative art project.
To illustrate the rich diversity of the bacteria carried on our skin, conceptual artist Sonja Bäumel isolated bacteria from her own skin. The bacteria were characterized and grown individually, then used to reconstruct an artificial microbiome with many layers of differently-colored species. A 'microbiome' is a collective term for all of the microorganisms that share our body space. Research initiatives like the Human Microbiome Project aim to catalog and characterize the species of microbes living on different body parts or in our gut, to better understand the role they play in health and disease.
For the project. giant Petri dishes grew imprints of the new microbial layer, creating a living snapshot of the normally invisible bacteria. The bacteria were characterized and grown individually, then used to reconstruct an artificial microbiome with many layers of differently-colored species.
A Petri dish map of artist Sonja Bäumel s body shape.
A Petri dish map of artist Sonja Bäumel's body shape.
Sonja Bäumel
The American Society for Microbiology describes the project as capturing "Feet smell like feet and armpits smell like armpits because they each harbor unique species of bacteria with unique metabolisms that produce unique volatiles. "
Sonja Bäumel is a fashion designer by profession, however she has been working with scientists for several years. Some of her other works have translated the invisible microbiome into a tangible layer through incredible hand-crocheted and knitted pieces. An example is the 'Invisible Membrane'.
With the current project, Bäumel told the AEC Blog "“When I worked in fashion, I was always very interested in the surfaces around the body. In 2008 in Holland, I wrote my master’s thesis about whether it would be possible to use the bacteria that already exist on our skin to create an open, living system right on our body. That was the point of departure of my work. In Holland, I got acquainted with various scientists. That was a fascinating experience. One of the first I met was a researcher who had been working for over 30 years on combating bacteria and was quite surprised that I showed so much interest in his pursuits. He agreed to provide me with literature on this field. And that was the moment I realized: OK, this is the beginning of something.”
More about Microcartography, Body, Human body, Bacteria, microbiome
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