What Would a Microbe Say?

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In this exhibition, artist Sonja Bäumel, collaborating with Helen Blackwell of the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry, explores the perception of what bodies are made of through microbes and the body’s surface. Bäumel reimagines skin as a fictional layer of communication, a multi-being landscape linked to the discovery of the human microbiome, which established the body as a walking biotope. Through the works in this exhibition, Bäumel examines how scientific knowledge has influenced the way we have perceived and interpreted the human body historically, and how this impacts our current society and the cultural contexts in which we act.


Related Events

  • What Would a Microbe Say? “Crossroads of Ideas” Panel Discussion: “Making the invisible tangible and imaginable.” Tuesday, April 28, 2020. 7-9 PM. [CANCELLED]
  • What Would a Microbe Say? Exhibition Reception. Thursday, April 30, 2020. 5-7 PM. [CANCELLED]

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Related Images

Image of a human-sized petri dish with bacterial growth in the shape of a human.

Sonja Bäumel, “Expanding Self,” 2012, bacterial imprint on agar. Photo by Maurizio Montalti. © Sonja Bäumel.

Image of brownish bacterial growth within a large plate.

Sonja Bäumel, “Expanding Self,” 2012, bacterial imprint on agar. Photo by Maurizio Montalti. © Sonja Bäumel.

crocheted versions of hands, arms, legs, and feet on a backlit light board.

Sonja Bäumel, “Crocheted Membrane,” 2008/09, crocheted fiber. Photo by Maurizio Montalti. © Sonja Bäumel.


“What Would a Microbe Say?” was originally slated to be installed in the Ruth Davis Design Gallery and to be on view from April 29, 2020 – June 7, 2020. Due to COVID-19 closures, selections from the exhibition were moved online with support from the Anonymous Fund. Online iteration launched in Summer, 2020. This exhibition was developed with the generous support of grants from the National Science Foundation and the Frankfurter Kunstverein Germany and was co-sponsored by the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry in the College of Letters & Science.