A Paper Chain – Bacterial Prints

Francis Dooley, GFA, 2024

Project Overview

I made a series of six drawings with E.coli, depicting steps to proper handwashing. I was inspired by signs in bathrooms and my own experience with fear of contamination that became very intense when I began working in the lab for the first time. At the time of this project, it was the only thing on my mind (admittedly, not much has changed), so I wanted to focus on how my obsessive nature created a seemingly fragile cycle (“a paper chain”) that I myself cannot break.


I used six clear petri dishes with Ampicillin antibiotic, and painted on them with green fluorescent proteins. Since the imagery drawn onto the plates is basically invisible until the cell cultures have time to grow, I first made guide images on paper, and then laid that paper under my dishes for some guidance during the drawing process.

I painted on the agar plates with a very thin speed-claved paintbrush. Every few minutes I would check my progress by looking at the dish from different angles to see where there was wetness on the agar/which lines I had drawn already if I had forgotten.

10/23/2023- plates painted on | 10/28/2023- documentation

I’m satisfied with the clarity of the images, but I think if I could have moved my plates to the fridge earlier, I’d be happier with the line weight- it’s a bit too thick for my taste.

The paper frames were drawn by hand, replicated using a lightbox, and cut one by one with an x-acto knife. The chains were simply strips of paper cut with scissors and glued. I think paper was a good material in this particular piece in the way that it expressed the concept, but if redone, I’d like to use a different kind (thicker), make the paper myself, or include some type of framing/backing(?). I’m also interested in learning to use the laser cutter in order to produce a more intricate design.

my email: sdooley02@mica.edu