Whether it’s an innie or an outie, the belly button is a great home for bacteria; with each one of our navels harboring a unique cocktail of up to 2,368 different bacteria species. To celebrate the human body’s wonderful and weirdly deep relationship with these organisms, artist Joana Ricou has created a series of petri-dish portraits detailing the different microbial compositions found in various individuals' tummy buttons.
The "Bellybutton Portrait Series” is designed to be an interactive and participatory experience. Anyone who attends her shows can give their own sample of bacterial button-fluff that could become a microbial portrait.
As Ricou explains in her own words, “The notion that we have bacteria in our bodies is not unfamiliar, although it's usually linked to things that make us sick and things that live in our intestine and help digest our food.
“But it's not just bacteria, there are fungus, mites, algae and other kinds of eukaryotes,” she adds. “A lot of these are essential to our health and well-being, and it's unclear the extent that they influence how we feel, or the extent to which they are us, too.”
"Lawrence, Cornwall, 2015." Image credit: Joana Ricou.
This project was developed as an exhibit for Invisible You – The Human Microbiome at the Eden Project, funded by a commission from the Wellcome Trust.
The collection of these so-called microbiota also has a scientific impetus. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Rob Dunn and Holly Menninger from the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University, who will also use the samples for their own enquiries about bacterial biodiversity. This is the same team of belly button fans whose aforementioned research found the 2,368 different species of bacteria residing in this region.
Much of Ricou’s work focuses on human biology, such as her piece “98% of 60 kilos of human being” in which she deconstructed the raw chemicals that compose the human body into jars and tanks.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Berlin, you can check out her work at the Nonhuman Subjectivities exhibition at Art Laboratory in Berlin until April 30.