Bacteria.

Category : art

 

So here’s the thing about bacteria. 
They’re everywhere. Huge colonies in your gut, in your mouth, on your skin, in your ear, in the sink, on the floor. Everywhere. When you use an antibacterial soap, or wipe, or that weird antibacterial hand gel that dries your skin up, it skins a small proportion of the bacteria off of the surface, mostly the kinds that are supposed to be there. Bacteria stops tooth decay. Lowers the incidence of depression. Prevents you from developing allergies, makes it less likely you’ll develop asthma, may prevent cancer. There’s as many beneficial forms of microbes, if not more, than there are ones that cause disease in humans. Antibacterial wipes often just make room for bacteria that means you harm. Which can freely multiply now that they have no competition. This is what people are talking about when they talk about drug-resistant staph infections; that nasty looking thing on the person’s face on the news was caused by too many antibacterial hand creams. If you sterilized your intestine, you would not be able to digest food. 

You walk around thinking there’s a clear line between alive and not alive. You think of that scene on Sesame Street, with Grover pointing to a rock and saying Not Alive, then pointing to himself and saying, Alive. But on that rock are millions upon millions of bacteria, going about their day, playing a role in an entirely different universe going on right in front of him. The world is seamlessly and continuous living, if you take everything in it into account. 

 

You can map your world in many ways; the streets in your neighborhood, the people and relationships that tie you to others, health statistics for people in your demographic, population density versus mortality rates, consumption patterns, infection rates. There’s a famous map of a cholera outbreak in London in the nineteenth century; it’s the classic example of the art of epidemic mapping. The man who drew it, John Snow, was a self-taught scientist (does such a thing exist anymore?) who lived in the neighborhood where the outbreak took place, and who worked with a local priest to gather enough information to track the source of the outbreak. It’s more a product of intimate local knowledge of a community than of scientific knowledge; bacteria hadn’t been discovered yet, they didn’t know what they were really looking for. They just knew when they drew out who lived where, what their habits were, what they did and did not have in common, and who died where, that a public water fountain looked to be the culprit. 

You can draw a map of the world that is apparent to the naked eye, and you can also draw a map of the world you can’t see. You could maybe also draw a map of them both, how they interact. You can trace how the macro and the micro relate. 

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