The Latin phrase memento mori translates as “remember (that you have to) die”1.
Post mortem photography is the practice of photographing the recently deceased.
The term perimortem, meaning “occurring at the time of death or very near to it”2, is most commonly used in clinical settings and forensic medicine.
Memento Perimortem 2016-17 is part of a growing collection of images taken in the laboratory to commemorate the near death of the organisms that I impose my will upon. In the process of creating transgenic bacteria that hold my thought within their bodies, I have come to respect the liveliness of the organisms whose existence I am in part responsible for. These bioassemblages: biotechnological organisms, made not born, multiply exponentially and I am resigned to reducing their numbers periodically lest they take over the laboratory.
This image therefore serves as respectful documentation of the termination of several generations of E. coli bioassemblages whose lives I chose to end in the making of my work.
My E. coli bioassemblages grow in tubes containing Luria Broth: a liquid nutrient medium. As the
E. coli grow, the medium becomes cloudy. The E. coli become stressed as the number of live colonies increases and the available nutrients diminish.
Each week, I remove 1ml of E. coli from the tube on the left and place them into the tube of fresh growth media on the right. I retire the stressed colonies for autoclaving (sterilisation) and disposal as bacterial waste. I thank them, bid them farewell and commemorate their lives with a hastily taken photograph (using a phone to take images is not part of standard laboratory protocol).
By paying my respect to the organism in this way, I try to remember that the resource which I draw upon for my research is living and has the capacity to act and interact in ways that I may never fully comprehend.
To my E. coli bioassemblages all past, present and future generations,
my thought remains with you, for the unknowable future.
My thanks also to Professor Volker Straub, Dr Ana Topf, Dr Steve Laval, Stephanie Carr, Dan Cox, Dr Grace McKenna, Dr Mojgan Reza, Dr Julianne Mueller, Dr Rita Baressi, Michele Giunta and the Muscle Team at the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University for their unending support and on trusting me to impose within the body of their organisation.
Memento Perimortem 2016-17 commemorates the lives of the E. coli bioassemblages grown between 13 December 2016 and 20 June 2017.
After autoclaving, these organisms were not retired as bacterial waste but retained and displayed as part of the exhibition FEED shown at Queen’s Hall, Hexham from 8 July to 26 August 2017.
1Oxford English Dictionary, 2001
2A Dictionary of Forensic Science, Oxford University Press, 2012
Images taken using an iPhone 6