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Conversation with ancient beings - research and experimentation



Serratia Marcescens, paper, nutrient broth


Collaboration with ancient beings is a research project focused on enabling bacteria to participate in art as a conversation in an attempt to move away from cycles of oppression through non-human specific subjectivities.


The first part of this project resumes the research and experimentation initiated under Whitefeather Hunter at the Speculative Life Biolab in Concordia University. There, I developed an ink enabling bacteria to move unto the paper and to interact (or not) with human made imagery. The screen-printing ink I have developed so far uses Serratia Marcescens, a bacterium producing a red pigment formerly thought responsible for the “bleeding” Eucharist and statues and now commonly found in our showers; but other brightly colored bacteria could potentially be used. Serratia is conceptually interesting to me first because of this tie with Eucharistic miracles and with the de-enchantment of religious experiences by scientific explanations, but also because prodigionisin, the pigment produced by the bacterium is photosensitive. This means that the prints produced with this ink would fade after extended exposition to sunlight; they are works to be kept in the dark, viewed only at night, or accepted as ephemeral.


The second part of the project consist in a collection of information, stories and reflections on the subjects of trauma, grief and community. This phase will be launched as soon as I am able to get consistent results printing with the bacterial ink. I intend to use open calls on social media paired with the distribution of a more structured survey (conceptualized with an associate who is a PhD student in psychology to avoid revivification episodes) to collect all sorts of narratives around the idea of mourning. I will also ask participants to send pictures of people who have passed, or of their own mourning bodies or strategies for survival. Some of these images will be screen printed in “regular” black ink. Words collected via the survey will then be added with “bacterial” ink onto the prints and left to interact, illustrate, heal and denounce these wounds.


Conceptually, with this project I aim to promote animism as agency into taking responsibility towards the human, as well as non-human others. Here, I need to acknowledge that my cultural position is outside of animism; that I come from a tradition of using animism as a reason to define/appropriate/use/kill others. Still, I am reluctant to substitute another term (like posthumanism for example) to it because it strips this concept from experience, theorizes it, and by pretending it is something “state-of-the-art”, discredits indigenous people from their conception of the world while maintaining destructive fantasies of man (European/scientific) linearity in progress. I am interested in reflecting on how our oppressive ways of existing are increasingly tied to our ways of dying (be it illnesses, racial violence, war, suicide, climate change, amongst so many ways of dying under capitalist oppressions) and how these deaths can affect communities. How groups of people reorganize themselves to grieve and survive, to create webs of support and survivorship; as well as to potentially fight a system kin to so many unjust deaths. Having been raised outside of animist tradition, I cannot grieve the death of inanimate beings (also increasingly tied with our oppressive ways of existing) with the same sincerity I do humans; Serratia will therefore reflect on grieving the non-human, hence sharing the burden and power of grief across species, broadening comprehension and sense of community.

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