• Tetrahymena
  • Tetrahymena
  • Tetrahymena
  • Tetrahymena

Tetrahymena

Art research Project
By Marta de Menezes and Maria Manuela Lopes, Ectopia – art research laboratory.
In collaboration with Dr. Isabel Gordo, Gulbenkian Science Institute.

Tetrahymena is an art project with no predetermined conclusion. It is an art project that lives of the experimentation, and as such it is an ongoing research process that dispenses a final statement. The work starts with an idea or concept that has been of critical importance to our society – the concept of gender. Our relation to the concept of gender is explored through a live organism that has seven distinct genders. Frequently, the words gender, sex, and mating preference are used with blurred boundaries. The common aquatic organism Tetrahymena exists in Nature in seven different “mating types” (as they are known to scientists), or sexes, or genders. Individuals from each “mating type” display characteristic morphologic and behavioral traits and are able to mate with individuals from any other of the six types different from their own.
We believe it is possible to use the live organisms as art media to generate an artwork addressing how each one of us relates to gender, sex, and mating preferences. In other words, we have chosen to develop a thought experiment, using objects and contraptions to challenge our preconceptions, belief systems, and rationality. Therefore, the artists’ aim is to not only to develop and experiment with biological material and techniques to develop and produce the artwork, but more importantly to experiment with concepts and preconceptions about gender issues that concern us all.
Tetrahymena is publically presented as an installation with a number of pieces that include the live organisms, video, and reflections of the observers. These installation pieces sequentially question the diversity of the different genders, or mating types; our own position within such diversity; and the supra-individual relationships that form the basis of communities and societies.
The first stage comprises the live organisms floating over video displays where differences between different types are highlighted. This piece also sets the stage for the subsequent installation piece where using a two-way screen, occasionally the videos of the organisms are replaced by a mirror image of members of the audience. Finally, the community level of organization derives from a similar display where images of interactions between organisms are displayed simultaneously with images from cameras showing interactions between human beings at different points of the exhibition space. All videos are seen through a curtain of live floating Tetrahymena organisms.
This installation is a reflexive and still transparent piece, representing the research process, and developed to explore the issues of identity, gender, sex, and mating preferences through the example of an organism with seven distinct “mating types”. We aim to transmit the essential of all the research process taking place inside the laboratory, in the studio, and within the exhibition space: observe and learn; get to know the organism; get to know yourself.

Tetrahymena
In collaboration with Dr. Isabel Gordo, Gulbenkian Science Institute.

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Tags: collaboration, sex, gender, mating type, genes, evolution, adaptation, cell biology, microbiology, live organisms, bioart, art.

Keywords: cell, gender, genes, live organisms