MicroBioMe: A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (or DIY Health Design)


Session Title:

  • Bio-art, Bio-tech

Presentation Title:

  • MicroBioMe: A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (or DIY Health Design)




  • For ISEA2016, the team of 4 artists intent to discuss the proposition of a joint installation directed by an interventionist strategy that has been conceived from an intense and fruitful online dialogue and brainstorming through which the group of artists discussed and delineated their individual ideas – Mick Lorusso, from the UCLA Art|Sci Center and Lab, Joel Ong, PhD student at DXARTS, Jennifer Nikolov(a), responsible for the project Labyrinth Psychotica, and Clarissa Ribeiro, working as an independent artist and professor of experimental practices in Architecture at the University of Fortaleza, Brazil.

    Despite the collection of individual interventions, an integral autonomy is created in the idea of setting up this joint reflection in an collective exhibition space, which is based upon an interventionist strategy that includes all the pieces, as it is envisaged by the team as a whole. The basic premise of MicroBioMe is to transform a toilet space and other common areas at exhibition venues into a ‘mad hatter tea party’ that invites visitors to design and play with their health by playing and engaging with interventions that influence their microbiome.

    ‘Wash your hands before dinner!’ is a mantra for most family households. Our understanding of just how important this ritual is, may be traced back to 1846 to the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis who discovered a pathogenic link between childbed fever and autopsies. Yet even today it is estimated that only 12% of people wash their hands before dinner. Why is this? People are known to act contradictory to what is considered as common sense, but could it be that our relation to microorganisms and our food is much more symbiotic than we realize? Do we consciously or subconsciously ‘forget’ to wash our hands in favor of benefits of processes born from a microbiome ecology? If so, what are these benefits?

    Recent scientific investigations have only begun to unveil the importance of human microbiota ecosystems with physiological processes of the host’s body and mental health; for instance, some experiments, as the one led by Messaudi and his team shows evidence that a combination of the probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum (probiotic bacteria found in healthy human gut microbiomes) reduced anxiety, depression, and stress levels and improved coping strategies. Is the entering of probiotics facilitated by an incomplete or forgetful wash? Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has been linked to excessive cleanliness, incidences of MS being linked to levels of sanitation, known as the Hygienic Hypotheses of MS.

    Is that why fecal bacteriotherapy or fecal microbiota transplants show promising benefits in treating patients with Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s? Faults in our gut bacteria are related to several illnesses. Psychosis has been correlated to the activity of microbial parasites like T. Gondii that cause inflammation in the brain by transgressing the body’s natural defense systems. People diagnosed with schizophrenia have been found to have different throat bacteria. When we wash our hands (or don’t), how are we designing our own (mental) health?