2013 || sonja bäumel in collaboration with Manuel Selg


This project investigates the unexpected diversity to be found on the human ecosystem and its 'social network'; this, by focusing on the language of billions of bacteria, which populate it.


Sonja Bäumel tested two subjects each of them left hand prints in three specially prepared Petri dishes: once after athletic activity, once right after sex, and once fresh out of the shower. Over a period of 8 days, Sonja Bäumel photographed the impressions on an hourly basis to document the development process. What could these images reveal? Could this become a new tool for better understanding how our bodies communicate with the environment?

To make the hidden diversity of this personal ecosystem visible, metabodies focuses our attention on the bacteria’s communications. As soon as the bacteria are present in sufficient numbers, exchange of chemical substances takes place among them. When this so-called quorum sensing occurs, organisms created especially for this project begin to glow. A sampling of our skin’s bacterial population, which was transplanted into a fluid culture medium where it can flourish under ideal conditions, provides a completely new way of looking at our body’s bacteria.

Could we be able to observe the language bacteria ‘speak’ through molecules, in different conditions? How does this communication change in different contexts?

Fifteen bacterial populations of each grown hand-print were selected in order to make the (in)visible communication of skin bacteria visible. The focus lies here on the human skin bacterial species: Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis. These bacteria are known for performing quorum Sensing through a peptide and are visualized by using the bacteria Escherichia coli modified with GFP (green fluorescent protein). In all of our activities, we differ from one another not only genetically but also bacterially.


Metabodies can be regarded as an interim update of an ongoing research and is on display in the Ars Electronica Center’s new exhibition “Project Genesis”.

The project was selected through an open call “Yours Synthetically”, as part of an EU project called Studiolab; the project was realized during a four week Artist in Residency at the Ars Electronica Future-and Biolab. Please find further information about the project’s process here.