This giant inflatable E.coli sculpture was made for the KREBS Fest, presented at University of Sheffield. The artwork was first displayed for a month in the Winter Gardens in and then in Firth Hall, Sheffield. The artwork has since been presented in other venues of the UK including the National Museum of Scotland, in 2022.
Making visible the microscopic world around us, the artwork was made as an experimental object to contemplate.
Bacteria are the simplest form of free living life and they exist everywhere in the world, from the deepest oceans to driest deserts and even in the clouds. Bacteria were the earliest form of life on our planet, and so this artwork could be considered as a curious portrait of our distant ancestors. If there is life on other planets (or moons) in our solar system, it’s likely, it will look like this.
At 90ft long, the E.coli is 5 million times bigger than the real bacteria. If someone was standing next to this bacteria to scale they would be over five and half miles tall! When standing next to it, does the bacteria alter our personal sense of scale? Does it look scary, beautiful, comical or alien? Will audiences be attracted or repelled by it?
This artwork was also made to reflect upon the importance of bacteria in our lives. There are 10x more bacterial cells on and within our bodies than there are human cells. Although some forms of Escherichia coli (or E. coli) bacteria can cause illness and even death in humans, the use of the bacteria is vital in medical research. Often described as the ‘workhorse’ of biomedicine, E.coli are used by scientists to replicate DNA. One of the first useful applications of recombinant DNA technology was the manipulation of E.coli to produce human insulin. Read this article about E.coli and how it is used in science.
Luke Jerram’s far smaller Glass Microbiology artworks are in museum collections around the world including The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), Shanghai Museum of Glass, Wellcome Collection (London) and Corning Museum of Glass (USA).
A Sense of Scale
E.coli is 5 million times bigger than the real bacteria. The artwork is 30m X 6m X 6m. If someone was standing next to this bacteria then they would be 9000km or 5.5 miles tall!
E.coli bacteria can move fast, at 15x their length in a second. If the bacteria were as big as this artwork, it would move at 540 km/hr!
This great Slide Bar Animation shows the scale of bacteria and other small things, compared to what we can see with the naked eye.
KREBS Fest, 2015
New Scientist Live, 2016
Winchester Science Centre, 2016-17
Sheffield Winter Garden, 2017
Eden Project, 2018
Oxford University Museum of Natural History, 2018-19
National Museum of Scotland 2022