Artist Examines Aesthetic Beauty of Devastating Pathogens

E.coli. Photograph by Luke Jerram.Smallpox, HIV, influenza: the names of these pathogens usually induce fear. Smallpox, although it has been eradicated for 30 years, killed millions in its time; HIV, a relative newcomer to the human race that appeared just a few years after smallpox was eradicated, infects 7,400 people each day. Influenza presents its own unique challenges with its tendency toward frequent genetic change, requiring new seasonal flu vaccines each year and sometimes surprising us with unexpected new strains.

Artist Luke Jerram examines these and other pathogens in Infectious Beauty, an exhibit of “glass microbiology” at the Heller Gallery in New York.  In creating these pieces, according to his website, Jerram explores “the tension between the artworks’ beauty, what they represent and their impact on humanity.

Jerram consulted with virologists before designing the sculptures, which were then created by professional glassblowers. His motivation stemmed partly from dissatisfaction with the way viruses and bacteria are typically portrayed: in color, even though the electron microscope photos usually used to capture them are black and white. Jerram, who is partially colorblind, considered how artificial coloring of these pathogens affected viewers’ understanding of them.

The resulting sculptures are transparent, approximately one million times larger than the pathogens they portray, but are not to scale (a limitation of the medium). Jerram’s show at Heller Gallery runs through July 31.

Luke Jerram: Infectious Beauty.
June 4 – July 31, 2010 at Heller Gallery, 420 W. 14th St, New York, NY.
Link to exhibition site: