23rd Art Division Grand Prize

[ir]reverent: Miracles on Demand

Media installation, Bio art

Adam W. BROWN [United States]


Proliferating stories about autonomous human mastery over all other organisms in nature, and touting that man was made in God’s image, has blinded us to the fact that our histories have been influenced by non-humans. This work is an installation that examines the impact of invisible microbial agents on the course of human history and belief systems. It consists of an incubator (a device that can maintain certain growth conditions including temperature) inspired by medieval Roman Catholic monstrances. First, a thin slice of bread with “PX” inscribed on it, symbolizing Christ’s name and embodying the Eucharist, is placed in the oculus; then micro-droplets of media containing a strain of Serratia Marcescens, a microorganism that produces a viscous liquid similar to blood, are delivered to the incubator and dropped onto the bread. The incubated microorganism produces viscous red fluid causing the bread to “bleed,” thus creating a blood “miracle” similar to those seen in churches centuries ago. The installation destabilizes human exceptionalism by questioning how human entanglement with other species shapes our histories.

Reason for Award

Miracles are, by definition, “acts of God.” They do not follow natural or scientific laws; they are unexplainable and mysterious. They also serve as proof that more powerful beings – a god, or many gods – exist and not only observe us, but also intervene in our reality. [ir]reverent: Miracles on Demand is a comprehensive display of the history of blood miracles: statues that spontaneously shed tears of blood, or bread that suddenly starts to seep blood. The sight of blood coming from inanimate objects can not be explained or rationalized; it can only be interpreted as a sign from God, a miracle. This work re-enacts the blood miracle by incubating and growing the red bacteria that has been the cause and scientific explanation of blood miracles, and allows them to be created “on demand” by the visitor. Bread is inoculated with red bacteria that grow within it and re-create the physical appearance of blood. What was unexplainable in the past can now be explained through micro-biology. What was an act of good has become a feat of science. We no longer need gods to perform miracles for us; we can now produce our own. But we still need a little help from the true rulers of this planet: the bacteria. (Georg TREMMEL)