The Spaces Inbetween: The Art of Microbiology

by Dr Jane Freeman

Dr Jane Freeman (pictured left) in our Disease Detectives gallery.

I love the beach. I love mooching along the shoreline where the sea and land meet and the line between one and the other blurs. There are special things to be discovered in these places.

When Anna and I work together there is that same feeling of special things happening in where art and science meet and create their own particular space. And just like you never know what you will find along the timeline on the beach – a crab claw? Driftwood? A gold doubloon? – so Anna and I don’t quite know what will turn up in our conversations.

We meet once or twice a month and talk about what’s happening in our worlds- sometimes things we’ve seen, textures, cool ideas, theories etc from both art and science. Through that, ideas spark and we follow them. Some are dead ends and we let float back out to sea, but others are worth picking up and working with. Often they evolve over quite a period of time and draw in elements we see or think of along the way.

An image of Anna Dumitriu's Fragile Microbiomes.
The Fragile Microbiome from Fragile Microbiomes (2024)

The Fragile Microbiome (pictured above) from Fragile Microbiomes came about this way. We had been planning a large piece on dysbiosis (when the bacteria in the gut becomes disturbed and destroyed by antibiotics) and Anna was talking about a hand-felting technique she thought would be really effective. It was then that we came up with the idea of involving our lab team in creating the artwork by making the felt pieces. This would reflect the bacterial communities working together in the gut too. It was a really great day getting together to do the workshop – such a lot of fun and great to be a real part of the physical creative process of making the art itself!

Seeing the exhibition itself was breathtaking. Seeing people’s reactions to it has been even more powerful. There are certainly treasures to be found in the spaces in-between.

Dr Jane Freeman is an Associate Professor in Clinical Microbiology at the University of Leeds and Clinical Scientist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. She works on healthcare associated infections and antimicrobial resistance, microbiomes and is a passionate advocate of careers in healthcare science.