Me, Myself & My Bacteria
NYU ITP Thesis 2020
An exploration on how bacteria from my mouth can be used to portray the essence of myself and my identity without having control over the bacteria’s final outcome. It started as an attempt to discover my artistic identity by exploring bacterial changes caused by the food I eat, eventually, due to extenuating circumstances, bacterial changes caused by my shifting mood.
Change of 1st sample over time from 1/25 to 4/14.
Close up of the 1st sample on Mar 6.
I proposed and started this exploration because I wanted to leave ITP doing something random, open ended and related to my questions about my artistic identity. When I was younger, my parents emphasized that studying art and creativity was a hobby rather than a career. I pursued science and math simply because I was good at it and understood the underlying concepts rather easily. I studied physics in college partly because it was the first science I was good at without much effort and partly because the physical world around me made sense. But as I continued my education, the world no longer made sense. Eventually, I didn’t want to study theorems and formulas anymore so I applied to ITP. I may have switched my path of study, but I remained confused about my identity within this new field of the recently possible at the intersection of art and technology. The switch to such an open-ended program has made me more confused about where I fit. I thought it would be useful to dedicate my thesis to this dilemma in an effort to try to grow as an artist and see if I can develop a different sense of self. I used bacteria because I like to work with randomness and noise, and bacteria is unpredictable and autonomous in its outcomes. Since I am confused about who I am in terms of my artistic identity, for my thesis project I decided to work with a medium like bacteria with which I cannot control the outcome. I used my own saliva as a fitting source of bacteria since I’m exploring my own identity. I think my identity has a lot to do with my physical body, so I thought that using my own saliva would produce unique results that pertain specifically to me.
Change of 2nd sample over time from 1/28 to 4/14.
Close up of 2nd sample taken on Feb 29.
For each sample of saliva I took, I went through the same process of collection. I would either eat an object of food (or not, depending on the time), then spit into a cup. I then used a cotton swab to place the saliva onto an agar plate. The placement of the saliva was a 3x3 grid of dots in order to see how much change would occur over time. After the saliva was placed, I closed the lid, later on I placed a plastic sheet to seal the saliva more permanently due to safety concerns. I placed the petri dish upside down into a container or a ziplock bag to seal the air inside. I placed a large bowl of hot water on top of the container or bag to keep the bacteria warm for a longer period of time (usually around 8 hours). I left the culture grow on its own for around a week and then depending on the sample it would grow mold or other features over time.
Close up of the 3rd sample taken on Feb 7.
Change of 3rd sample over time from 2/2 to 4/14.
Overall, most of the bacteria looked the same and the mold also looked the same. The color and growth would vary based on the food that I had consumed or the conditions (i.e. temperature, etc.), but not by much. The general color scheme consisted of yellow, orange and an off-white, with the mold having a monochrome color scheme of white, grey and black. The bacteria produced circular, organic shapes. I was surprised by how little the bacteria would change based on the different foods I had eaten and just overall, the overall results were pretty uniform.
Change of 4th sample over time from 2/8 to 4/14.
Close up of the 4th sample taken on Feb 29.
In terms of myself and my artistic identity, I learned that I should be comfortable with the unknown and general uncertainty of who I am. I like lacking control in the end product and having autonomous creations. Randomness and the unknown add unintended outcomes that I enjoy because I’m always surprised at the end result. I want to create things that have their own path, I don’t want to control every single outcome. If I want to make thing with unknown outcomes, then I should be ok with being unsure about what my artistic identity is. As time goes on, I’ll develop a stronger sense of self, but as long as I’m ok with being experimental and producing things that I enjoy, I’ll conclude that my identity is ever-growing. Although my identity may change, according to bacteria, the core of who I am doesn’t change even during times of panic, which is a comfort during these uncertain times. But since I’m always uncertain about I am, knowing that my bacteria doesn’t change as I change is a comfort.
Change of 5th sample over time from 2/15 to 4/14.
Close up of the 5th sample taken on Feb 29.
The main conclusion of my thesis makes me wonder how much we think we change over time in comparison to how much we actually change. Is there any way that our knowledge and mentality can change our bacteria? Can a person change without going through any physical changes? How much of our identity is based upon the composition of our bodies? How much different are we from one another? My thesis ends with more questions than it began with, but in the end I’m ok with being confused.
Change of 6th sample over time from 2/23 to 4/14.
Close up of the 6th sample taken on Feb 29.For more information & my thesis presentation, please click here to visit the ITP Thesis Archive.
Close up of 7th sample taken on Feb 29.
Change of 7th sample over time from 2/24 to 4/14.
Below are some more images and gifs of the samples that were taken. This page may be updated periodically to reflect other developments and further experiments.