Art and Bacteria in Heidelberg, Germany

In February 2013, I was an invited speaker for an EMBO – Planctomycetes-Verrucomicrobia-Chlamydiae (PVC) Workshop-Conference in Heidelberg, Germany. A year before the conference, I received an email from Dr. C. Jogler, who was very interested in my etching of Planctomyces maris, which is part of the Symbiogenesis print. He wanted to know, why I had chosen this bacterium and where I found the texture that I applied on the bacterium, because they had only observed it in detail very recently.

Symbiogenesis, etching, 50 x50 cm, 2009

” However, there is one more detail that thrilled me once I became aware of your work: The way your draw – sorry better say etched?- Planctomyces maris was just as we saw this organism very recently using the most sophisticated cryo-tomographic-electron-microscopic methods: The so called craterifrom structures that give rise to the tube like structures look exactly like the structures you have drawn -sorry, etched. This is remarkable, since the artist just saw the structures while the biologist needs a multi million dollar machinery to make them visible. “

Dr. Christian Jogler,
personal communication, 27 February 2012
Planctomyces maris, etching, 7.5 x 7.5 cm, 2009

I selected a Planctomycete for my print because the form was striking and had enigmatic qualities. A sense of mystery seemed appropriate to me. The drawing I sourced was a bit clinical and not organic enough to my taste, so I added texture with an organized structure that seemed a logical continuation of the spindles sticking out from the bacterium. In hindsight, they match with microscopic observations that were recently observed. My drawing of these structures is intuitive but subliminally informed by years spent observing natural forms. There is also a coincidence in the fact that Planctomycetes are now subject to intense study; whether they are evolutionary intermediaries in the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes – the exact process I set out to portray.

We maintained an interesting correspondence, which led to an invitation to present on Art and Science for the EMBO workshop: Planctomycetes-Verrucomicrobia-Chlamydiae Superphylum: Exceptions to the bacterial definition?

The conference was a wonderful experience. Due to the small scale of the PVC community, it was attended by a small number of participants, 40-45, which allowed for lots of interactions. The social part of the meeting included an amazing visit to the botanical garden, and a dinner at the beautiful Heidelberg castle (that holds the big wine barrel). My presentation on relationships between art and science brought a “refreshing and colourful side” to the conference.

This experience was concluded with a publication:

Kolijn, Eveline. “Observation and Visualization: reflections on the relationship between science, visual arts and the evolution of the scientific image.”  Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 2013, Springer Science + Business media Dordrecht. DOI 10.1007/s10482-013-9951-z.

Conference participants

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