Microbiologist Christina Agapakis and scent artist Sissel Tolaas‘ science-meets-art project “Self Made” seeks to challenge the way we think about microbes, scent, and the nature of disgust. Most cheese is made by taking milk and spoiling it with the bacteria, Lactobacillus. This bacteria transform milk sugars into acid, causing it to coagulate. The chunks are removed from the liquid and aged with specific yeast that creates specific cheeses. Lactobacillus and yeast can be found all around us, including our own skin. Agapakis and Tolaas take microbes from people’s skin – like Michael Pollan’s belly button or artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears – and add them to milk in order to create a human microbial cheese portrait (a cheese selfie?).
“The idea was to recognize, how do we get grossed out? Then to think about it and move beyond that initial idea of disgust,” Agapakis says. “Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?”
From the artists’ statement, “Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet. Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods? How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?”
“Self Made” is currently on view (and smell – the project is for thinking, not eating) at Gallery Science in Dublin until January 2014 as part of the “Grow Your Own” exhibition along with other synthetic biology projects including a mouse cloned from Elvis Presley’s DNA, a yogurt drink that yields disease-diagnosing feces, and a project that proposes a future in which humans could give birth to endangered species. (via huffington post, npr, and la times).