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Mud Paintings - Jenifer Wightman

 As a portion of the WaterLines residency, scientist/artist Jenifer Wightman produced four of her Mud Paintings at SANDBOX. Composer Aleksandra Vrebalov also produced a unique piece in relation to the living works. 

Soil is alive

After the invention of the microscope and just as we were discovering bacteria, a 19th century Russian biologist named Sergei Winogradsky put soil in a glass column in the window near his desk. He was determined to understand what was going on inside the soil. Over time a red splootch formed in the brown column so he put his pipette down into the red spot and looked under the microscope – and the particles moved.

Bacteria paint

Using Winogradsky’s technique, Wightman makes living colorfield paintings with microbes that photosynthesize pigment in unique soil samples. While individually invisible, growing populations of bacteria amass blocks of color as defined by conditions in each sample. As one species exhausts its preferred resources and dies out, another species thrives on the waste products of its predecessor. Transition of color indicates ecological succession of microfauna metabolizing a livelihood within a finite ecosystem.

Chestertown portraits

In Chestertown, Wightman collected samples from Foreman Branch (upstream freshwater site), Radcliffe Creek (from Stepne Manor to the Chester River), and Eastern Neck Island (most saline sample as the Chester River meets the Chesapeake Bay). A fourth ‘painting’ is a combination of all sites. 

Prior Work

For the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council residency on Governors Island (August-December 2012), Wightman built five steel and glass frames to hold mud and water from polluted waterways to create evolving portraits of New York City. Each frame included mud from one of the following: Hudson River