German artist Wolfgang Ganter and biochemist Dr. Ana Domingos of the Gulbenkian Institute first met at the ArtSci Nexus Think Tank in April 2016 at the Kunstkraftwerk in Leipzig, organized by Curator Candace Goodrich, the founding Art Director from 2013 through 2016.
The series „BACTERIALITY“ was presented by Ganter as an artist talk, while Domingos lectured about her obesity research at EMBO IG at the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Lisbon where she is a Principal Investigator.
„BACTERIALITY“ are images produced from slides and color negatives that Ganter photographs or collects from bulk waste piles or purchases from private estate sales. The oldest materials are about seventy years old and some have experienced a process of disintegration because of bad storage conditions. Ganter pushes this process of deterioration further by planting bacteria cultures on them which grow into colonies and eat the gelation emulsion of the slides. The results are manifold: the slides change very differently according to the age and the development of the chemical emulsion and the diverse bacteria. The bacteria themselves feast and in turn bring out hidden colors and rearrange the original compositions. The effect of the bacteria cultures is the means of expression of new forms and content.
Ganter states, “On the one hand photography is unmasked as an illusion, and on the other end of the spectrum a new reality is created.”
After drying the negatives, the condition of the treated material is stable enough to take up to 1000 individual detailed pictures with a the use of a microscope. Ganter then stitches the hi-resolution photos back together on the computer. With this technique he can realize prints in high quality at any size. Ganter currently prints them up to 162 x 350cm on photo paper with lightfast pigment dyes. The prints are then mounted with a acid-free adhesive foil on wood and covered with poured, clear resin.
A short video documentation of Ganter’s process can be watched here:
Domingos was intrigued by Ganter’s “citizen scientist” experiments and even a little fearful for his health, as he mentioned during his lecture that he was desirous of finding a scientific collaborator also so that he could understand more clearly and concretely the bacterial strains that he was producing so that he wouldn’t unwittingly infect himself, which had happened a few times in the past. Ganter and Domingos immediately had vibrant conversations about different kinds of cultures, microscopy, and cellular dyes. As the conference was only 5 days, Domingos then organized a formal invitation for Ganter from her institution. The artist residency took place at the end of 2016 in her laboratory for a one month period.
They worked well together, also with her team of researchers on gaining more control over the bacterial growth, and selecting cultures based on their purity and various other attributes, to catelogue their effects. One major issue for Ganter in the past, was that some of the most beautiful strains didn’t like the gelatine layers of the ectachrome slides. After some experiments the team was able to solve this problem with adding a nutrient coating to the photographic slides. As in the Gulbenkian Institute there are only genetically modified bacteria and yeasts available, it was not possible to take any of those strains out of the lab back to his Berlin atelier. However with the nutrient coating discovery, Ganter can now utilize a collection of strains that are already in his freezer storage that previously he was unable to.
A new direction for Ganter, was the access to experiment with many chemicals, dyes and chemical markers. The Gulbenkian has also sent a big package to Ganter for further experiments to his studio back home. In addition to the lab work, Domingos organised the possibility for Ganter to do a panorama detail shoot of the Gulbenkian musuem collection which will become the basis of future work. Ganter attended many scientific lectures while there and most importantly was able to continue his dialogue with Domingos. He will soon return to Lisbon to show the results of their collaboration and to conduct further testing and give a public lecture.
Ganter and Domingos’ work will be presented at Staten Island University in NY in November 2017, and hopefully at the Rockefeller Institute as well (to be confirmed November 2017). Ideally, beyond a first presentation in 2017, in a future phase for Ganter he would travel to Stockholm to work with a laboratory and one of Stockholm’s prestigious collections of art.
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