Artist infects dresses with 'superbug' bacteria to tell a lethal story (Video)

Anna Dumitriu
© Anna Dumitriu

From dresses made with cow nipples to wedding gowns crafted with upcycled bread bag clips, strange fashion concepts have often graced these pages, but none seem as terrifying as these dresses embroidered with antibiotic-resistant 'super' bacteria, created by British artist Anna Dumitriu.

© Anna Dumitriu

Known for her experimental work with robotics, "bioart" and bacteria, Dumitriu is also founder and director of the Institute for Unnecessary Research. Dumitriu's obsession with this unconventional subject matter began with an elementary school project on the plague, leading her to later work with microbiologists after her art degree.

Dumitriu's fashion design work is an interdisclinary exploration between art and science, compelling us to examine the symbiotic relationship we have with bacteria. In a controlled laboratory setting, Dumitriu carefully cultivates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria onto fabric, then transforming them into dresses. Of course, prior to exhibition, Dumitriu sterilizes her works, allowing viewers to get up close and contemplate these deadly, otherwise microscopic organisms.

© Anna Dumitriu
© Anna Dumitriu
© Anna Dumitriu

In another work focusing on tuberculosis, she felted lung-shaped pieces that were saturated with the bacteria, and then autoclaved before exhibition.

© Anna Dumitriu

There is an element of evolutionary futurism in Dumitriu's work. In one project, laced with both "normal environmental bacteria from a Winogradsky Column [..], Mycobacterium vaccae [..], MRSA (which can interface with the human nervous system and affect how we feel pain), and Bacillus Calmette Guerin (a form of attenuated Tuberculosis, a bacterium strongly linked to creativity throughout history)," as well as natural and artificial antibiotics, Dumitriu investigates how deeply our relationship with bacteria can go:

The Hypersymbiont Dress is a dress stained with bacteria. It draws attention to ways in which our own bacterial flora could be enhanced to turn us into human superorganisms, with improved appearances, improved health and even improved personalities. The concept of this artwork comes from new technologies, such as whole genome sequencing and synthetic biology, which allow humans to understand symbiotic bacteria and to find possible ways to drive our own evolution at a cellular level.

© Anna Dumitriu

It's quite a twist on fashion, yet there is an intriguing scientific question underlying these works. In addition to her dresses, Dumitriu also draws on the community and storytelling traditions of quilting, using these infected fabrics to tell a story: how it affects the world, what kinds of contemporary research is going on, techniques used in microbiology and the development of medicines. Giving a human touch to what might otherwise be an inaccessible area of study for most people, Dumitriu's work helps to put these issues into a sobering perspective. More over at Anna Dumitriu's website and Normalflora.

Tags: Arts | Bacteria | Clothing

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