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Tracy Debenport - What Goes On Around Us

Words:

Edd Norval
November 8, 2021

By the title of her website tracylovesfungi, you might get an idea of what it is that makes Tracy Debenport tick. Producing her unique art as a means of making the invisible visible, the artist draws on scientific research as a means of communicating this easily overlooked part of our lives.

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There’s over 1000 types of bacteria living on and in our body. On the surfaces around us, there’s many more. Some of these are good, some of these are bad. All of them play an important role in the microbial balance of life around us. 


When the untrained eye looks at the world, it's as simple as what’s in front of us. For a microbiologist, their imagination overlays an invisible film containing a multitude of other life forms that most people go through all of theirs without knowing about. That’s where Debenport’s work resides - somewhere between science and art, between education and storytelling. 


When artists turn our eyes onto something that’s usually unseen, it can quite easily feel revelatory. It’s like we’ve been granted access into a secret new world, a whisper that’s been passed down only to our ears. Debenport is a microbiologist and this is how she understands the world - by paying attention to what is invisible. Luckily for us, she’s passionate about sharing her knowledge, doing so in a manner feel like more of an experience than an education.

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She does this by visualising the highly magnified images of the microorganisms that she researches, each having unique shapes, proportions and purposes, like something entirely fantastical that doesn't belong on our skin. Framed in such a way that these living things are art, like microscopic bacterial muses, the scientist becomes the communicator and art becomes the platform. 


On her website, the artist draws our attention to the possibilities of utilising these organisms, “Microbes play vital roles in our ecosystems. Not only are they integral members of plant, animal and human microbiomes, but they also produce many important molecules that we use in medicine, industry and food production. I want to inspire curiosity in all ages and hopefully draw more people to the incredible world of microbiology!”


In their aesthetics, mould and other microbes held the same type of beauty that many might associate with flowers, or other naturally occurring flora and fauna. Under the microscope, Debenport can see the strength and fragility of these living things, their willingness to adapt and overcome just like the people they live on and in. They are, after all, the things that make us.

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Through her mixture of design and photography, the artist acts as part documentarian and part curator of organic materials. There’s a combination of chaos and order in this process, where some cultures are entirely spontaneous and others carefully grown for their particular properties to be explored and presented.


Manifesting in the photographs and designs themselves, some of her images just work out naturally, captured entirely raw, whilst others are edited to enhance certain qualities and turn our attention towards them - something Debenport humorously refers to as ‘microbial glamour shots’. Aesthetics aside, the presentation is key and, whether edited or not, the focus is on faithfully representing the microbes defining qualities. 


Some of the structures of her work make you look away, others draw you in. Both are equally as interesting. Although they belong in our world, you’d be easily mistaken to think they’re from some alternative planet. They're not. They're all right here, on and inside you. Thanks to Dabenport - we can now put a face to them all. 

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