The human body contains trillions of bacteria; some cause deadly diseases, some fulfill important functions without which people would die, but most just live with us. These bacteria living in and on the body are called the microbiome, and through my digital paintings, I address the role of the microbiome in regards to three topics: human identity, lineage, and health.
Personal Ecologies is a series of digital paintings in which I relate specific natural processes with the various roles bacteria play in the human body. One painting uses a puffer fish who cannot retract his spines as an analogy for the overactive immune response that can occur when the balance of bacteria in a person’s gut is disturbed. Another highlights bone loss caused by the absence of certain bacterial species by comparing it to the breakdown of ice in the arctic. The work began as landscape paintings in which different body parts represented different environmental areas on Earth. The landscapes imagine people’s bodies as interconnected ecosystems for bacteria. My work has expanded to cover not just environmental regions, but ecological processes as well such as erosion, natural disasters, and colonization by invasive species. The human body is not a static thing, but an ever evolving system formed through negotiation with the bacterial species comprising half the human body. My work reflects this, showing humans to be a part of nature’s processes, not above or outside of them.
This series of paintings asks audiences to think about the complexities of human biology, to question the concept of the individual, and be inspired by the magnitude of living creatures sharing their bodies. I create my digital paintings using matte painting techniques where photographic elements are collaged together to create seamless new compositions. These source images are created by collectives of other artists purposely generating resources to be used for this digital painting technique. I use their imagery as a base, painting over their photographs, modifying the colors, shifting the scale, and balancing detail. A cohesive whole is created by the merging of disparate elements, reflecting the nature of the human body as a symbiosis between different species. Personal Ecologies is the synthesis of my scientific training and artistic vision, representing my view regarding humanity’s place as one of many species on this Earth. By making an installation of digital paintings to communicate this concept, I am declaring fine art, with its deep visual language and use of a metaphor as an important part of engaging the public in scientific literacy.