Art and science collide at the University of Johannesburg 

Africa’s first ever Bio-art exhibition pulls in a large crowd of enthusiasts 

The Creative Microbiology Research Co-Lab (CMRC) has introduced biotechnological art (bior-art)– the use of living and non living matter such as, bacteria, yeast and wet biological practices to create art for South African audiences – at the faculty of Art, Design and Architecture’s gallery at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). 

The exhibition, which is the first of its kind on the continent, aims to establish the practice of bio art in Africa, while interrogating the relationship between humans and the environment. 

The gallery was filled with artworks by nine UJ artists and scientists, physically exhibiting in the space.

Upon entering the gallery, people were met with Dr Nathaniel Stern’s art piece, The wall after us which was littered with electronic waste and botanical installations. 

VIAD team member Sinead Fletcher setting up The wall after us. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Professor Leora Farber, co-founders of the CMRC together with Professor Tobias Barnard said: “This [exhibition] has been three years in the making, something that I passionately wanted, I did a five-month residency at a very prestigious bio-art laboratory in Perth at the University of Western Australia. I came back and thought [to myself], we just gotta have this and we’ve got all the facilities- so for me, this is a very special night.”   

The crowd was especially drawn to a work showing hands on which live bacteria were growing by Barnard titled, Come dine with us. This had a rotting stench which he attributed to the acidic contents and the fermentation stage.  

He explained that after Covid-19, people stopped washing their hands, and he wanted to illustrate to them how bacteria can find a home on human skin through touching everyday surfaces. He added that, “People don’t understand microbiology because its abstract, you can’t see it. So, we thought how we could show you what would grow on your hands if you didn’t wash them?”  

A picture of the Come dine with us exhibition showing a hand covered in bacteria at its rotting stage. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Another enthralling work on the exhibition was CEION, the growing room, by Nolan Oswald Dennis because of its purplish fluorescent light. This room had a collection of Southern African wildflower seeds which were cultivated between the pages of Sister Outsider a book by feminist, queer black Audrey Lourde, translated into Sesotho.

Art enthusiasts exploring the growing room by Oswald Dennis. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

The exhibition marked the launch of CMRC bioart laboratory in the FADA building. Barnard, and architectural inventor, Xylan de Jager said that they hope to expand the space if granted funding. 

The UJ Vice Chancellor, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi told Wits Vuvuzela that he was impressed with the event. “This exhibition emerges as a message of triumph and hope, it spurs us to embrace a journey of exploration and witness how interdisciplinary approaches blur the lines between traditional disciplines and transcend boundaries”, said Mpedi.  

UJ Vice Chancellor Professor, Letlhokwa Mpedi giving an opening speech at FADA Gallery. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

The exhibition started on July 20, and it will end on August 19, 2023, with special walkabouts with the artists on July 22 and August 5, 2023.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Art enthusiasts walking past a Brenton Maart exhibition. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

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