Please see here information on artist Anna Dumitriu who has spent 20 years creating BioArt about infectious diseases, working in close collaboration with leading scientists.  Her extensive body of work is highly relevant to the Covid-19 crisis. Please consider her work for coverage. Thanks,  Jessica 07939 226988


ANNA DUMITRIU AND THE ART OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES


“I work by developing in-depth collaborations through embedded residencies shadowing researchers and working hands-on in the lab to understand the research, methods and processes. I use the raw materials of research to create my artworks, performances and participatory workshops.” Anna Dumitriu
 
Anna Dumitriu: ‘The Plague Dress’ (2019) premiered as part of the 6th Guangzhou Triennial at Guangdong Museum of Art, 21 December 2018 to 10 March 2019. The work is a part of “Infected!” opening at the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in 2020.
 

Through textiles, installations, digital media and performance, British artist Anna Dumitriu has been making art about infectious diseases for over 20 years. Her works classified as ‘BioArt’ not only explore diseases like the plague, MRSA, and tuberculosis but actually incorporate killed bacteria and DNA of those organisms. She has worked with the viruses that infect bacteria, known as bacteriophages, and created works using CRISPR DNA modification.

Anna Dumitriu works in laboratories alongside leading scientists and medical professionals. She was the 2018 President of the Science and the Arts section of the British Science Association and holds visiting research fellowships at the University of Hertfordshire, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, and Waag Society. She is artist-in-residence with Modernising Medical Microbiology at the University of Oxford, and with the National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC) at Public Health England.

The aim of her wide-ranging body of work is to bring attention to the significance of bacteria and infectious diseases and the impact that they have on us at societal, cultural and individual levels, and to try to help us understand the organisms behind them and the new technologies scientists use. There is a great deal in her art that can teach us about the COVID-19 crisis.

CONFUSION IN EARLY MEDICAL ADVICE

The renowned physician, author and apothecary Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54) recommended walnuts as a treatment for plague. Carrying bunches of lavender was cited as a preventative action as plague was held to be caused by ‘miasmas’ or bad air. These two components are an integral part of Anna’s major recent work ‘The Plague Dress’, a piece that has been ten years in the making. The Plague Dress comprises a 1665 style silk gown, dyed with walnut, appliqued with original 17th century embroideries and impregnated with the DNA of Yesinia pestis bacteria (plague). The artist worked with scientists at the NCTC at PHE Colindale in London to extract the DNA, which is not infectious, from killed bacteria in the lab. The dress is stuffed with and surrounded by bunches of lavender.  Other elements include ‘The roll’, a piece of padding typically worn under the skirt to puff it out, which contains a pungent mixture of herbs and spices that would also have been stuffed into beak-like masks of plague doctors. Understanding the true causes, cures and preventions of infectious diseases is a lengthy scientific process.

ECONOMIC HARDSHIP

The silk used to make ‘The Plague Dress’ references the Silk Road link which was thought to be a vector of the disease, but also the fact that the first and worst affected tradespeople to suffer in the Great Plague of London were the cloth workers who received the imported fine silks and linens.

More about The Plague Dress

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Rest, Rest, Rest!’, 2014, Metal, Cotton, Extracted TB DNA, Madder root dye.
Part of ‘The Romantic Disease’ series Supported by The Wellcome Trust

 

REST, REST, REST!

Until the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin in 1943, there was no effective treatment for tuberculosis (TB) and, much like the COVID-19 patients of today, medical treatments were directed towards enhancing the immune systems of sufferers through a regime of rest, regular meals and fresh air. Calculations were made as to the number of breaths required to perform specific tasks and patients would be confined to bed, sometimes strapped into just one position until they recovered, rebelled or succumbed. Dumitriu’s work ‘Rest, Rest, Rest!’ refers to this period, whilst the simple bed form reminds us of those being gathered in temporary hospitals being built around the world now. This is one work in Dumitriu’s ongoing series on TB entitled ‘The Romantic Disease’.

More about Rest, Rest, Rest!

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Where There’s Dust There’s Danger’, 2014, Felt, Wool, Dye, Extracted TB DNA, Dust. Part of ‘The Romantic Disease’ series Supported by The Wellcome Trust
 

THE SOURCE OF DISEASE

Dumitriu’s work ‘Where There’s Dust There’s Danger’ explores the difficulties in finding how TB was transmitted. On 24th March 1882, pioneering microbiologist, Robert Koch made the ground-breaking announcement that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis. It was a tiny, slow growing bacterium, that was later given the scientific name Mycobacterium tuberculosis. For thousands of years it had been a mystery, with even vampires being blamed for the disease, also known as consumption. In fact, ritually buried TB patients have been found in the United States with stakes through their hearts. Even after the bacterial cause was found the means of transmission was not entirely clear. We knew that, like COVID-19 coughing was the significant means of transmission but the question remained about other ways TB could be spread and much of the blame was placed on dust. In 1902 the advice of the National Society for the Prevention of Consumption was that: “Rooms, passages, and staircases must be kept free from dust. Where there is dust there is danger. Do not chase dust about, nor stir it up. Use damp dusters. Use plenty of tea-leaves or damp sawdust when sweeping the floor. Boil the dusters. Burn the tea-leaves and sawdust.”  The theory was that sufferers would cough up sputum from their lungs and spit it out. The sputum would dry and become mixed with dust which people could breathe in. But it seems very unlikely that the disease could be spread effectively in this manner.

More about Where There's Dust There's Danger

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Pneumothorax Machine’, 2014, Carved and Engraved Pneumothorax Machine. Part of ‘The Romantic Disease’ series Supported by The Wellcome Trust
 

TREATMENTS GET BETTER

‘Pneumothorax Machine’ (2014) takes the form of an altered original pneumothorax machine originally used to collapse an infected lung of a tuberculosis patient in order to ‘rest’ it. It reminds us of the texture of the lung tissue as the immune system attempts to wall off the foreign TB bacteria that it cannot eliminate. The engraving represents an image of TB bacteria seen under a microscope. Artificial pneumothorax appears an almost barbaric treatment in our post antibiotic age, but up to the 1950s it was common. Over time our understanding of new diseases changes as do the ways we treat them. As research grows we begin to develop better treatments, and the old treatments begin to appear very aggressive.  For example there are indications that gentler Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices can be an effective treatment for COVID-19 compared to ventilation in less serious hospital cases.

More about Pneumothorax Machine

 

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Make Do and Mend’, Altered CC41 Suit, CRISPR Modified Bacteria, Silk, Linen, 2016-17, Supported by the EU H2020 FEAT Project
 

CRISES CAN LEAD TO NEW INNOVATIONS

Dumitriu’s pioneering work ‘Make Do and Mend’ (2016-17) further explores antibiotic resistance and how new technologies might be used to combat this man-made crisis. The work references the 75th anniversary of the first use of penicillin in a human patient in 1941. It takes the form of an altered vintage wartime woman’s suit marked with the British Board of Trade’s utility logo CC41, which stands for ‘Controlled Commodity 1941’ meaning that the use of materials had been deemed to meet the government’s austerity regulations. The holes and stains in the suit have been patched and embroidered with silk patterned with E. coli bacteria. The genomes of these bacteria have been genetically modified using a cutting-edge technique called CRISPR that allows researchers to cut and paste DNA. The artist removed the gene responsible for resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin and scarlessly patched the bacterium’s DNA to encode the WWII slogan “Make Do and Mend”, using today’s latest technology to ‘mend’ the organism back to its pre-1941, pre-antibiotic era state. Our antibiotic stocks have not been protected as the ‘controlled commodities’ they should have been. As a counterpoint today’s governments now seek to control the use of CRISPR but this is difficult because of its accessibility and potential to revolutionize biotechnology, especially in times of crisis. 

More about Make Do and Mend

HIDDEN STORIES

When crises occur, artists respond and create tools to help us reflect and to uncover untold and hidden stories. Anna Dumitriu is currently developing new work in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. She is working with the Art/Data/Health Project at the University of Brighton, to create a new artwork looking at the impact of self-isolation and the risks to women from domestic violence, especially now they are confined to their homes for up to twenty-four hours per day with potentially abusive partners. This, Dumitriu's latest work will be based on stories she is collecting from around the world.

Link to work with Art Data Health Project

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Don’t Try This at Home’, Wood, calico, Human Microbiome Transplant (Sterilised), Rubber Tube, Eden Project Permanent Collection
 

THERE ARE UNFORESEEN CONSEQUENCES

Much of Dumitriu’s art explores antibiotic resistance, the process by which disease-causing bacteria are evolving to find ways around the treatments we rely on, an issue described by the former Chief Medical Officer of England Dame Sally Davies as a threat great as that from climate change. Dumitriu now working with Dr Jane Freeman at the University of Leeds to explore the impact of antibiotic resistance on the gut microbiome following the large-scale use of antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial pneumonias caused by COVID-19. They will also reflect longer-term on the collateral effects of the crisis on UK healthcare science. They previously collaborated on a work exploring human microbiome transplants that is now on permanent display at Eden Project in the UK. 

More about Don't Try This at Home

Anna Dumitriu: ‘Ex Voto’, 2017, Aluminium, Silk, Sterilised Bacteria, Antimicrobial Dyes
 

IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER

In 2017 Anna Dumitriu began to develop ‘Ex Voto’, an ongoing participatory artwork and major installation that explores the impact of infectious diseases and antibiotics on people’s lives, created through the making of ‘votive offerings’ during drop-in story sharing workshop sessions with members of the public at venues including the History of Science Museum in Oxford and Eden Project. These secular ‘votive offerings’ reference those found in religious settings symbolising a wish or giving thanks for its fulfilment. The ‘votives’ are hung on ribbons, stained or dyed with bacteria, including various species of gut microbiota, Staphylococcus aureus and modified antibiotic-producing Streptomyces (all sterilised), as well as natural antimicrobial substances such as madder root, and non-hazardous chemical dyes used in the lab. Dumitriu aims for this work to be extended during and after the crisis with other reflections about the changing face of treatment of the disease, successful recoveries, remembrances of lost loved ones and in support of the scientists and healthcare workers for their invaluable contributions.

More about Ex Voto

LINKS
Anna Dumitriu’s website: www.annadumitriu.co.uk
Biography 
Upcoming Exhibitions and Events

INTERVIEWS
Press Contact:  Jessica Wood, Arts Media Contacts 07939 226988 jessica@artsmediacontacts.co.uk

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