The Art of K. Euan Yang

What are your thoughts on the intersection of art and science?

What I found is that, through my art, I was able to bridge two schools of thought. People who were interested in biology came through and gained a deeper appreciation of the art, and people who were interested in art gained an appreciation for science. I just thought that was the coolest thing.

I am still trying to find a balance between art and science that isn’t just using science for art. I want it to hold up as strongly as an artistic object with its own mystery and its own interest. And I want to bridge that with a very scientifically rigorous process. To be able to convey that intersection in a way that does not alienate either camp is kind of difficult thing. And I still am trying to deal with it.

“My Mother’s Microbiome Transfer”

“My Mother’s Microbiome Transfer”

P. Phosphoreum, a bioluminescent bacteria, pipetted into 24 96 well experimental plates with agar medium chemically and nutritionally matched to the inside of a fish’s gut. Made from a picture of Euan’s mother’s thumbprint. In collaboration with Dr. Siouxsie Wiles at Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland.

Euan: This happens to be a picture of my mum’s fingerprint. I call this one “my mother’s microbiome transfer” because the first introduction of bacteria into a baby’s gut is through a mother, and that that has its own characteristics.


What is your take on how your work can be a reflection on the relationship between the mind and body?

We’re so intimately dependent on bacteria, and the way that these beings inside of us exist can determine our health and hence our mind. You hear so much about the gut microbiome nowadays — people are beginning to pay more attention to eating fermented foods and it’s completely reasonable - fermentation is one of our most ancient and anthropologically important processes that has allowed us harness bacterial pre-digestion to gather nutrients from from vegetation and meats.

I haven’t really written this down to vocalize this yet - but this series of work is to express our very intimate connection and dependence on bacteria and other life forms to survive essentially. 

And to be cognizant of this is to be cognizant of humanistic hubris in a way — how we depend on these tiny things. And how they could f**k us up if we f**k with it. If you don’t acknowledge the importance of bacteria then you are endangering yourself. 



P. Phosphoreum, a bioluminescent bacteria, sprayed and incubated on agar medium chemically and nutritionally matched to the inside of a fish’s gut to moulds of Euan's hands. In collaboration with Dr. Siouxsie Wiles at Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland.

Euan: The kind of medium that I used was chemically and nutritionally matched to the inside of a deep sea fish’s gut, where the bacteria are naturally found. It was isolated and grown by Dr. Siouxsie Wiles when she went to a supermarket and then swabbed the inside of the fish’s guts.

Wiles put up a call for artists on her science blog to use glowing bacteria to create art for her Biolumination 2 project for the Auckland Art Festival in 2015. She was organising an exhibition of glowing art in the basement of the central city, just a two minutes’ walk from my high school,  which was very exciting because I, as a high school student and emerging artist at the time, was able to very easily find a means to express my creativity with amazing media. 

Last summer I went back to New Zealand and underwent a two-week microbiology graduate-level training program. Through that, I could understand the actuality of working with living creatures to make art. It was super exciting.

Check out more of Euan’s artwork here or her student organization, Artx, here