Second Skin 8. Cellulose grown by A.xylinum. 24 x 15.5 inches, 2011.
In 2010, I began a collaboration with Dr. Jeff Skerker and the Arkin Lab, a bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley. The scientists in the Arkin Lab devote much of their effort to trying to break down cellulose. I asked them if they could help me grow cellulose from a bacteria called A.xylinum. I became interested in this material because I was looking for a transparent substrate for my silver nanoparticles that lacked the slick perfection of glass. I wanted to work with something softer, organic, and less controlled. I was drawn to bacterial cellulose partly because it shared another life with silver nanoparticles; together, they are used as a temporary artificial skin for burn victims.
As I began culturing this organism and harvesting the cellulose it grows, I realized that it has something to say on its own. It doesn’t need me to shape it, draw images on it, or adorn it with silver nanoparticles. I became most interested in the cellulose’s capacity to communicate directly with the body of a viewer. The visceral response it elicits is one of recognition: in one body, another sees elements of its own.
This inquiry has branched off into a few projects: a series of photographs, gestate, a series of photograms, A.xylinum, and two portable peepshows. Here, we see the cellulose skins themselves.