Bacteriality, by Wolfgang Ganter, is comprised of two series, titled, “Micropaintings” and “Works-in-Progress”, realized in collaboration with biochemists Dr. Ana Domingas (Gulbenkian Institute), Dr. John LaCava (Rockefeller University), physicist Prof. Dr. Ben Eshel Jacob (Tel Aviv University), biologists Prof. Dr. Klaus Hausmann (Freie Universität Berlin) and Dr. Diego Serra (Humboldt-Universität Berlin). The process involved in creating “Micropaintings” consists of instigating chemical reactions on glass plates (measuring maximum 5 x 5 cm), while instantaneously digitally documenting these reactions under a microscope in real time. The Self-organization of the reaction (based in chaos theory), also called spontaneous order (in the social sciences), is a process where some form of overall structural order arises from local interactions between parts of an initially disordered system, without a controlling external element. In the case of “Micropainting”, the consequence is the creation of an image that is mutually executed both by the artist and by the medium itself, passing the authorship beyond the realm of human creation. The artist stitches, stacks, and enlarges the microscopic data to show the rich information contained in these images that is otherwise impossible to perceive with the naked eye. The results are analogous to pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope or Google Earth.

In the second series “Works-in-Progress”, the artist begins by visiting museums and significant private collections to produce photographic DIA slides and color negatives depicting the “great masterpieces of the world history of art”. After duplicating then the photos onto 35mm analogue film, the artist infects the films with various bacteria strains, yeasts or fungi, to transform the original image through biological processing. As the bacteria feeds on the gelatine layers of the photographs, while eating the emulsion, the color and pictorial arrangement of the image is altered, bringing hidden colors to the surface according to the gastronomical preferences of the particular strain of bacteria used. With the assistance of his scientific partners, Ganter has gained access to a large variety of microorganisms while in residence in their laboratories and remotely by consultation. When a slide has reached an optimal stage he stops the process by means of dehydration. Back under the microscope Ganter takes up to 300 digital detail photos to cover the surface of the 24 x 36 millimeter sized piece of treated reproduction film. He then seamlessly stitches the image back together and by this method he is able to realize supreme quality prints in any size. The results are both aesthetic, scientific, and challenge the notion of what is a “masterpiece” and how the canon is constructed. It shows the beauty of decay, the necessity of change and can be seen as symbol of “Vanitas” or “Memento Mori”. The series indicates that decay is less disappearance but rather a change to something new. This transfer also touches the question of whether a piece of art is ever really finished.

A short video documentation of Ganter’s process can be watched here:

Wolfgang Ganter met Dr. John Lacava and Dr. Ana Domingos in Leipzig at the first Think Tank. 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 was presented at Staten Island University in NY in November 2017. During this visit, Ganter did an artist residency at Rockefeller University with Dr. John Lacava. At the close of the residency their was an art talk and exhibition. Some of the results of these exchanges will be presented in Halle, Germany at the AGM 2019 anniversary.