C-LAB's Howard Boland was invited to present Banana Bacteria (previously shown at the first ever public art exhibition featuring living genetically modified organisms in the UK at the Royal Institute) as part of the GROW YOUR OWN exhibition at Science Gallery in Dublin featuring a range of artworks and events aimed at highlighting the potentially ground-breaking applications and uncertain implications of synthetic life.
Banana Bacteria is a living transgenic olfactory display where the foul smell of E.coli bacteria is exchanged with the sweet smell of banana. These bacteria have been genetically altered by removing a gene responsible for the foul smell and adding a genetic design that enable bacteria to synthetically produce banana oil.
Developed as part of Howard’s immersive and independent laboratory practice adopting scientific tools, protocols and methods of synthetic biology (along with works such as Stress-o-stat and KatEred), his practice developed an increasingly complex relationship with the material (e.g. use of genetics and biological processes). Banana Bacteria is part of a series of works that spans beyond metaphorical/speculative use of genetics, taking the audience into the realm where the artist creates new behaviour in microogranisms and allows this to be experienced.
While speculative scenarios are posed about future applications of synthetic biology, such as how bacteria inhabiting humans could be made to produce synthetic odours (i.e. replacing bad breath with minty fresh breath), the focus in Banana Bacteria is on the intimate experience in terms of the audience interacting with genetically modified (GM) organisms through smell. Odour as an interaction provides an actual and immediate experience beyond speculation that aesthetically renegotiates bacteria.
Curated by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Anthony Dunne (Royal College of Art), Paul Freemont (Imperial College), Cathal Garvey (bio-hacker) and Michael John Gorman (Science Gallery), GROW YOUR OWN featured a broad thematic range of artworks, such as works featuring living genetically modified organisms in Banana Bacteria, 3D printing of protocells, chemicals that behave like living cells, in The Mechanism of Life; producing cheese from human bacteria extracted from armpits, tears or belly buttons in Selfmade; apples sprayed with synthetic DNA in Blighted by Kenning; cloning commercially available GM carnations in Common Flowers; bacteria performing alchemy in The Great Work of the Metal Lover; portrait sculptures created from extracts from human DNA found on littered cigarette butts in Stranger Visions; living organisms growing geometrical objects in Xylinium Cones; speculative scenarios such as 'Elvis mouse model' in All that I Am, and I Wanna Deliver a Dolphin...; imagined future lifeforms in Post Natural History; speculative potentials of having bacteria engineered to act as diagnostic tools via our faeces in E.Chromi; fictional documentary featuring engineered fungi in New Mumbai and parasitic wasps in Into Your Hands Are They Delivered; fictional synthetic biology-embracing environmental activists in The New Weathermen; aesthetic explorations of synthetic biology's convergence with nature in Designing for the Sixth Extinction; juxtaposing natural and artificial fictitious landscape in northern California in Zero Park; speculative design solutions towards potential organs in Circumventive Organs; and explorations with pigment producing bacteria for use in textiles in Faber Futures.
Photo Credit: © Science Gallery, Dublin