Julia Pollack: Collaborative Ecologies

Julia Pollack is curator and creator at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign where she creates artwork based upon her conversations and collaborations with scientists there. This exhibition features two bodies of work focused on honeybee colonies and microbial communities. The pieces represent visual explorations that highlight the power and aesthetics of science imagery.

Das leben der anderen (The Lives of Others)

Honeybees are the most important pollinator on the planet, but bee health is seriously threatened by many factors. Current research seeks to clarify how honeybees’ social interactions enable their colonies to respond to disease, which may lead to better colony management practices and increased food security.

To create this series, Julia Pollack collaborated with German scientist Tim Gernat who studies complex systems and swarm intelligence in bees. Barcode-based honeybee tracking makes it possible to automatically distinguish hundreds of individuals in digital videos, and to continuously monitor and record them over long periods of time to increase our knowledge of bee social networks. As Pollack and Gernat were talking, she thought it would be useful to document honeybee’s interactions in photographs. She writes: “Many people have aversion to bees and any swarming insect, but when you observe closely, you can see them feed each other and work together. The fear melts away when you can see how bees care for each other and the health of the hive.” She hopes the images will bring us closer to bees to recognize our own hive tendencies and unexpected similarities.

In Fragments No Longer

We are surrounded by microbes. When we brush past strangers, share a hug with a friend, or give our loved ones a kiss, we share millions of our microbial friends with each other. This series of diptychs was created through Pollack’s collaborations with four others at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology’s Art of Science program. To create each diptych, Pollack and a different collaborator imprinted their microbial communities on Lysogeny broth (LB) plates which contain a nutritious jelly that is designed to help bacteria grow. The works pose the question: are we really a hyper individualistic society that takes advantage of the world around us, or are we mere passengers making our way through a microbial world that binds us all together with a multitude of invisible connections?

Pictured: The Hive, from the series Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), 2023, inkjet print on fabric, 90 x 60 inches.


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