Vanitas (in a Petri dish)
In the series, Vanitas (in a Petri dish), contemporary bio-artist Suzanne Anker appropriates some of the tools, materials and methodologies of biotech researchers, along with the artistic tools of photography, symbolism and metaphor, to create luscious images that pop to life. With her choice of title, Vanitas (a 17th century Dutch style of still-life painting that always included dead or decaying objects to remind viewers of their own mortality), the artist adeptly reveals the intent of these artworks.
Here Anker is not acting as a scientist would, using the Petri dish as a site to grow organisms in a culture or medium. The artist is “culturing science” when she employs the circular Petri dish as a framing mechanism for her contemplation of life, death and transition, whether of natural or unnatural (synthetic) life forms. Her discerning compositions metaphorically allude to the cycle-of-life by including such specimens as slices of fruit, egg yokes, exoskeletons of sea urchins, curling/drying orange peels, flower buds and spiny seed pods.
The artist’s obsession with Petri dishes first began when she placed specimens in Petri dishes and viewed them through the stereo lenses of a dissecting microscope. The sense of awe she felt when seeing the vibrancy of color and magnified details of forms, shapes and patterns of the specimens inspired her to create and produce these larger-than-life photographs.
Anker’s bio-art invites us to speculate, along with the artist, about the wonder and diversity of the new hybrid life forms today’s scientists are creating within the circular and profound world of the Petri dish.
~ Cynthia Pannucci, Founder-Director of Art & Science Collaborations, Inc.