Marcus DeSieno likes to play God, collecting and breeding bacteria into a “luscious ecosystem” on photographic film of appropriated images from outer space he then coats with developing chemistry. The bacteria strip away layers on the film creating colorful abstract images that DeSieno then scans to make prints. Some of those results are part of his series “Cosmos.”
“I have a large collection of dead parasites floating in jars of alcohol on my shelves, half-disassembled ham radios stuffed under the desk that holds my microscope, Petri dishes of bacteria growing everywhere, (badly) taxidermied animals and skeletons from all sorts of creatures, and specimen incubators that I ‘liberated’ form an abandoned life-sciences building at a university,” he wrote via email.
When he began working on “Cosmos” a year ago, DeSieno collected samples from restaurants and hotels, as well as television remotes, iPhones, and even his own body. He then decided to push things further. Inspired by old Dateline specials about “what’s really in your hotel room” he went after a more human, often humorous experience, taking samples from rides at Disney World, glory holes in adult bookstores, and motel hot tubs “in a quest to find the most exotic locations, to explore the foulest, most alien places this country has to offer as I searched to find this invisible life.”
Because bacteria seem to grow quickly in dark, humid environments, DeSieno breeds them in the back of his car, parked in Florida where he lives.
“I have garbage bags full of Petri dishes and Tupperware containers in my trunk, filled with strips and sheets of film, disintegrating every day as these bacterial colonies thrive and slowly eat away at their surfaces,” he wrote. “Needless to say, no amount of air fresheners can mask the smell that emanates from my trunk.”
Believe it or not, DeSieno was a germaphobe as a child, often washing his hands compulsively after touching something that seemed dirty. He said a lot of his work has been in response to this childhood fear. “Perhaps I’m interested in confronting the very things that have terrified me the most in my life through the art-making experience.”
DeSieno’s work is also inspired by his fascination and deep affection for analog photography as well as alternative processes such as those used by Matthew Brandt. “I’m interested in pushing photographic film out of its historic function by using it as a playground for tangible life to grow and multiply,” he said. “I’m fascinated by photography’s relationship to the invisible and unseen and how the medium has been used and utilized historically to aid in seeing.”
“I currently have hundreds of pieces of film growing with all sorts of different bacteria cultures. From glory holes around Florida to subway bar handles in various cities across the country, I have swabbed everything and anything you can possibly think of. And if I haven’t thought of it, you should send it to me.”