Baroque Biology (Paper Theatre)

Baroque Biology (Paper Theatre) is a series of LB Agar petri dishes containing imaginary biological vignettes where non-human organisms teach humans complex biotechnological processes. Reminiscent of William Hogarth’s serial engravings, each vignette builds on the narrative established in earlier installments. Like fairy tales from a biotech future, each allegory focuses on a fox, or a microbe, a plant or fungi, who tries to communicate with humans in a helpful manner about the biological processes they employ for survival, for reproduction, and/or aesthetic pleasure. Sometimes the human characters are open to receiving the communicated information, and sometimes they are hostile, or ignorant to the messages they are receiving across species.

Each petri dish will contain paper cut outs, gold leaf, and 3D sculptural agar forms seeded with genetically modified rainbow-colored bacteria. Over the duration of their life span the Petri dishes slowly will become confluent with microbes interacting with the collage elements in the dish.

This work is inspired by Lynn Margalius and Dorion Sagan who argue that humans learned genetic engineering from microorganisms (Margalius, Sagan, 1997) and Bruno Latour who argues that Pasteur collaborated with microorganisms in the discovery of penicillin (Latour, 1984). These perspectives upset the more common biotech narrative of human ingenuity and discovery as the central force in advancing biotechnological research.

Research Contributors: Jude Abu Zaineh, Lisha Laing, Philip Habashy, Aleeza Tariq, Gillian Hughes, Kadila Adili.
Photography: Justin Elliott

This project is supported by the University of Windsor, SSHRC Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canada Research Chair Program.

This work is available for purchase through IOTA studio Gallery:

1-6) Jennifer Willet, Baroque Biology: Paper Theatre, 2019. Image Credit: Justin Elliot.