Microorganisms are the dominant form of life on this planet. But despite their abundance and commonplaceness, a vast amount of bacterial life-forms and their living conditions are still unknown. In order to examine, investigate and research bacteria, it is necessary to grow and cultivate them. For this, two approaches are possible.

The first is the ‘Isolation’ or ‘Pure Culture’ method in which only the desired organism is cultivated on a special, tailor-made growth medium; any other organism growing in this bacterial mono-culture is considered a contamination. The opposite of this singular approach is the ‘Co-habitation’ or ‘Mixed Culture’ method, also known after one it’s first practitioner as the ‘Winogradsky Column’. In this method, a diverse bacterial ecosystem is created, that allows for the nutritional interaction between different organisms. In the Winogradsky column a range of ecological environments are available and inhabited by different organisms to form a cohabitative, collaborative, cooperative culture. This tight coupling of microbial communities in an enclosed ecosystem can serve as a complex model of cooperative life.

In this work, we investigate the connections and interfaces between Nature and Culture by exposing microscopic cultures to significant examples of human media-cultural artefacts. These artefacts represent the historical range of storage media technologies. Each Winogradsky column is seeded with one specific type of storage media:

- Paper (Books, Newspaper) : Text
- Photograph : Image
- Film : Moving Image, Sound
- Vinyl Record : Sound
- Magnetic Tape : Video, Sound, Data
- Harddisk : Data
- Optical Disk (CD, DVD) : Video, Sound, Data
- Flash RAM, SSD : Data
- DNA, GM Organisms : Data, Life

As each microorganism has different nutritional needs and produces different chemical byproducts, each column will develop an unique ecosystem that fits to the ecological niches in the Winogradsky column. Physical properties of the column - light, oxygen, sulfur, carbon, etc - occur stratified in the column, therefore creating a range of possible conditions for the bacteria. The addition of the media-cultural artefacts adds another, unique nutrition source to the bacterial ecosystem.

Our interest is in creating an observation opportunity for the confrontation between ‘Nature’ (as represented by the microorganisms) and ‘Culture’ (as represented by the cultural artefact of human storage media). The physical properties of each storage medium (Cellulose, Carbon, Metals, etc) can be absorbed by certain microorganisms, incorporated into the bacterial ecosystem and thus the human culture can be translated back into nature.

Books, Photographs, Film, Records, Tapes, Hard-disks, optical disks and RAM represent the historical evolution of storage media and are a reflection of human cultural development. The last columns does contains a forward-looking storage media: Genetically modified cyanobacteria carrying data in their DNA. Current technology shows some cautious attempts in using DNA as a storage medium, but any practical uses have not yet been developed. We are curious to find out what happens, when culture - the storage media in the shape of DNA - becomes indistinguishable from nature itself.

2012, Winogradsky columns, Microorganisms, Storage Media Artefacts



「Cultigen(培養変種)」とは、バナナなどの栽培された種のみが存在し、自然界にはないものを意味する。作品「Cultigen 9」は、それぞれ異なる記録媒体と、土、砂、水などでつくられている。カラム(チューブ)の中では多種多様な環境がつくられ、微生物達がお互いの栄養を提供しあって生活し、また人間がつくった記録メディアからの栄養(炭素、セルロース、金属など)を吸収し分解していている。そのように、カラムの各層では生物の営みと、人工の素材による複雑な「共同文化」がつくりあげられている。それは「Nature」と「Culture」の相互作用によるエコシステムであり、 我々の生活の縮小図のようでもある。展示されたCultigenは全部で9つあり、そのなかには新たな品種「Cultigen X」がいたかもしれない。

Cultigenの9つめの記録媒体はDNAである。遺伝子組み換えの微生物のDNAが入っているため、ラボの外に出すことが出来ない。9番目のCultigen 9にはどのような記憶が保存されているのだろうか?

Exhibited at:
Seimeibigaku Ten, Waseda University