LIVING MIRROR is an interactive art installation that attempts to produce real-time images by taking advantage of magnetic bacteria’s light scattering properties and exposing these to alternating magnetic fields. Unique to these bacteria are their ability to swim along Earth’s magnetic field and when they are introduced to a changing (magnetic) field, they rotate synchronically causing the light to scatter as a visible shimmer inside liquid.
By taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images LIVING MIRROR attempts to programmatically harmonises hundreds of lights pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture.
As a liquid biological mirror, LIVING MIRROR draws on the idea of water as our first interface predating today’s screen-based digital technologies. It points to the myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own image by believing it was someone else in the water reflection. Drawn into the image, he tragically drowned - a reminder of how we continue to immerse ourselves in similar mirrors as we extend our identity into the virtual. Simultaneously, the work highlights how contemporary science has shattered the idea of our own body by recognising that we are mostly made up of non-human bacterial cells. These ideas have shaped digital and biological understandings of our human self and are technically and conceptually reflected in LIVING MIRROR.
As winners of the Designers and Artist for Genomics Award (DA4GA), an annual art-science international competition where selected artists produce new works in collaboration with some of Netherland's most prestigious scientific research institutes, C-LAB's Howard Boland and Laura Cinti undertook a five-month residency at FOM Institute AMOLF, a world-class biophysics institute.
Throughout the project we established communication with world leading experts in the field of magnetotactic bacteria. This suggests specific technological overlaps (i.e. possible use of shimmer as a magnetic measurement or methods for orienting or guiding cells).
As a display, LIVING MIRROR remains a research-based artwork composed of multiple layers ranging from art, science, technology and media.
The work is an ambitious undertaking that integrates three complex layers of wetware, software and hardware each requiring unique attention. A five-month full-time residency at FOM Institute AMOLF resulted in the artists undertaking research, prototyping and conducting all biological wet laboratory work independently.
As a research project the outcome includes an innovative and unique multidimensional display.
Consequently, the challenges of producing the display constitutes a major undertaking that faced challenges such as cultivating esoteric bacteria, design, manufacturing and assembly of bespoke multiple electronic boards to control around 250 individual magnetic coils, a software system integrating Kinect motion sensor, instrumentation control and visualisation, and finally a custom designed vessel system to integrate and host sensors, electronics and the bacterial culture.
Living bacteria responding in real-time is a highly unusual experience to observe without the use of microscopic devices. The final integration of the system produces shimmering pixels with the aim to form portrait images.
The process and activities undertaken in developing the work has been rigorously documented through a website developed specifically for the project and included a daily-diary, lab book, project description and project outcomes. To date we have held workshops and talks on the project, its development and this has also included live demonstrations.
Significant time and efforts were also made in pursuing a licence for exhibiting a genetically modified (GM) strain of the bacteria used. To date the Netherlands has not been able to showcase GM artworks and the project partook in efforts to establish this possibility through a formal application to the appropriate governmental ministry that sought to allow the use of living GM material to be displayed in an artistic context.
On 24 October 2013, for the first time in Netherlands, the GM Permit was officially published by Bureau Genetisch Gemodificeerde Organismen (Bureau GGO) in a series of newspaper publications. This represents a major milestone in exhibiting GM artworks in the Netherlands.This was followed by an official licence granted by the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) to exhibit GMO.
Last year, we exhibited living genetically modified organisms for the first time the UK at the Royal Institute of Great Britain in April 2013 after a lengthly negotiation. Following this, we succeeded in obtaining, for the the first time in the Netherlands, an official GM permit to show genetically modified organisms was granted on 10 December 2013 (after 9 months effort). Although, significant in enabling future exhibition GMOs artworks and how artists and curators may approach such ventures, the Dutch permit was only obtained days before the closing of the DA4GA exhibition which unfortunately did not give us time to showcase the GM strain.
More images of the project and our residency at FOM Institute AMOLF can be seen on the LIVING MIRROR website.
LIVING MIRROR team: Bela Mulder, Tom Shimizu, Marco Konijnenburg, Dirk-Jan Spaanderman, and Duncan Verheijde.
With special thanks: Wilma van Donselaar (Netherlands Genomics Initiative) Lucas Evers (Waag Society) Albert Polman (FOM Institute AMOLF) Sjan Janssen (Naturalis) Dirk Schüler (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) Sarah Staniland (University of Leeds) Katja Taute (FOM Institute AMOLF) Frank Vermeij (Naturalis) Bart van Leijen (FOM Institute AMOLF) Jan Zomerdijk (FOM Institute AMOLF) Henk Neerings (FOM Institute AMOLF) Per Staugaard (Biosafety Training & Consultancy) David Louwrier (Leiden University) Simone Boskamp (FOM Institute AMOLF) Noreen Walker (FOM Institute AMOLF) Albert Philipse (Utrecht University) Menno Borsboom (FOM Institute AMOLF) Marc Duursma (FOM Institute AMOLF) Marc Clements (University of Westminster) Quentin Pankhurst (UCL Institute of Biomedical Engineering) Mathew Kallumadil (Tokyo Institute of Technology) André Kamp (Leiden University) Lesley Robertson (TU Delft) Marc Fluttert (Leiden University) Georgios Papadakis (Waag Society) Vanda Sunderlíková (FOM Institute AMOLF) Ilja Stavenuiter (FOM Institute AMOLF) Willem de Jong (FOM Institute AMOLF) Luc Blom (FOM Institute AMOLF) Mohamed Tachikirt (FOM Institute AMOLF)