The Awesome and Deadliest Art in the World

Monday, May 7, 2012
Luke Jerram makes the deadliest art in the world. His subjects have caused pain and suffering for hundreds of millions of people throughout history. They are infectious, they are resilient, and they are everywhere.

- Born in Stroud, England and now living in Bristol UK with his wife Shelina and two children Maya and Nico (Bellic?)
- Diagnosed with dichromatic colorblindness at an early age
- Led to obsession with the mysteries of human perception, both its idiosyncratic nature and its innate limitations
- Where does the visual perception of an object end and the memory of it begin?
- His goal: to explore the tension between a viruses’ devastating beauty and their devastating impact on humanity


-The Collaborators: University of Bristol virologist Andrew Davidson, glassblowers, Kim George, Brian Jones and Norman Veitch
- Took inspiration from high-resolution electron microscopic images, creating large, painstakingly accurate glass sculptures of viruses and bacteria such as HIV, E. coli, SARS, and H1N1 (Swine flu)
- Took over 5 years of development and research
- Jerram and his collaborators created glass genomes, carefully placing them on tiny pedestals within what would become viral envelopes
- They then closed up the tops before adding final touches of spikes and glycoproteins, which were shaped and melted on while keeping the whole work at roughly the same temperature


- The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference?

- How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocoloured images have that ‘naturally’ coloured specimens don’t? How does the choice of different colours affect their reception?

- Our belief about what viruses and bacteria look like have undoubtedly been born out of media depictions of them. images of viruses are originally taken in black and white on an electron microscope and then they are coloured artificially

- Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity

- The problem is that you end up with the public believing that viruses are these brightly coloured objects. These are often portrayed in newspapers as having an air of scientific authenticity and objective truth, whereas actually that isn’t the case. You can end up with some images that potentially promote fear

- With 3D sculptures, there’s also a tangibility you can’t get from flat pictures. There are diagrams of a virus and then there are photographs of a virus from electron microscopes. The purpose of a diagram is to communicate details in a very clear and concise way, whereas the scientific photos of viruses do something different. And a 3D representation makes you look at it in yet another, different, way

H1N1 (Swine flu)
H1N1 (Swine flu)
Small Pox
E. Coli
H1N1 (Swine flu)
Future Mutation - Photograph by Luke Jerram