The Growth of Microbial Art

There are 3 books hanging out on my coffee table that I’m currently enjoying: 10% human, Tiny creatures and Bio Art. It seems ‘Microbe’ is the new ‘buzz word’. With the recent estimation that as much as 90% of a human’s cellular make up could be microbial, coupled by the fact that microbes could be the cause of many health issues from allergies to depression, it’s natural that they are inspiring a new generation of anatomical and scientific art.

In November 2015 while in New York, I was one of the first to see the American Museum of Natural History’s Exhibition entitled ‘The secret world inside of you’. In the exhibition, there was a display of petri dish images showing the bacterial flora found in different people’s belly buttons.

amnh_secret world inside of you_2

This imaginative and thought provoking display led me to reflect on microbial art over the last decade, and how that is now changing and developing into the rapidly growing areas of #SciArt and #BioArt.

Since 2004 Luke Jerram has been developing a range of sculptures of microbes. Following various impacts of certain diseases such as HIV, Ecoli, Avian Flu and Swine Flu, Jerram allows us to see the beauty of the viruses as jewel-like forms.

Swineflu_Luke Jerram

A couple of other artists have taken a similar approach to microbial art by removing the colour so often artificially added to microbial images, leaving the viewer to focus on the forms and design of the microbes. Laura Splan‘s project in 2004, ‘Doilies – Viral Artefacts’, “explores the “domestication” of microbial and biomedical imagery in the quotidian landscape”

Laura Splan Doilies_HIV

Paper artist Rogan Brown creates incredibly detailed replicas of microbial landscapes cut form layers of paper. His 2014 piece ‘Outbreak’, which took 4 months to make, he describes as an exploration “of the microbiological sublime”.

Rogan Brown_Outbreak

Moving from the colourless to the colourful, Sonja Baeumel‘s 2010 piece ‘Cartography of the human body’ uses the colour of specific microbes cultured from her own skin flora. “The different morphologies, colours and quantities of bacteria on different body areas were examined, analysed, counted and documented. The bacteria were bred, partially reanimated and kept alive”. With the specific colour of microbe isolated and cultured, it was then re-applied to Sonja’s skin where it could be printed onto agar, and grown as a body print of one colour.

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sonjabaeumel_cartography of the human body_1

The 2015 piece, ‘Microbial Me’ by UK-based artist Mellissa Fisher consists of casts of the artist’s face in agar. Fisher then swabs her face and applies the bacteria to the agar sculpture which acts as a food source for the microbes to grow. The pieces evolve across the course of a year, growing and then decaying.

Mellissa Fisher


The 3D printed garments by Neri Oxman in 2014 ’embed living matter in the form of engineered bacteria within the 3D structures in order to augment the environment’. A printed hollow capillary network filled with bacteria turn garments into living ecosystems.

“Designed as a single strand filled with living matter inspired by the form and function of the human gastrointestinal tract, this wearable is designed as a an organ system for consuming and digesting biomass, absorbing nutrients and expelling waste. The peristaltic movement of matter within 3D printed translucent tracts is designed to support the flow of cyanobacteria engineered to convert daylight into consumable sucrose.”



About our Guest Author


Emily Evans

Emily is an Anatomist and Medical illustrator. She has been working as a Medical Illustrator for the last 12 years and works from her studio in London UK. Emily is also senior demonstrator of anatomy at Cambridge University, UK, teaching the medical students human dissection and anatomy.

Additionally, Emily is the author and illustrator of ‘Anatomy in Black’, owner and designer at Anatomy Boutique, Anatomist and Artist in Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, New York and a Member of the Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britain, the Institute of Anatomical Sciences and the Anatomical Society. View her medical illustration and art at