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Pictures Considered #11. Invisible Portraits: A Microbial Art Exhibit

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Getting the message out to the public that the microbial world is about much more than just diseases is a challenging topic, but one we should keep trying to improve on. There are many ways to do this, but as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and most people don’t want to read a thousand words anyway. When the University of British Columbia’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum suggested that we stage an art show based on protists, the three of us gladly took on the challenge.

This actually all started several years ago when we moved into a new building at UBC in Vancouver. The walls were a strikingly deep red colour that reminded one more of an art gallery than a lab. Indeed, the colour seemed to beg to be paired with giant, ornate, even gaudy gold picture frames. As a joke, we commissioned a copy of Gustav Klimt’s “The Tree of Life”, which seemed appropriate for the lab, and framed it in a hand-me-down frame that we spray painted gold. This got the ball rolling, and we soon hatched the idea to cover the red walls in the lab and down the hall with a ‘gallery’ of gold-framed SEM pictures of beautiful protists. The idea here is that one would have the context of an art gallery show, but the content would be all wrong, and the effect is strangely unsettling.

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