“Metabolism circulates and generates novelty in all strata of matter/culture.” – Myra Hird

The Streptomyces bacteria emit a seducing geosmin aroma, a single sniff of which can evoke the memory of a forest after rain. The aroma of wet leaves is intertwined with the history of human resistance to antibiotics. In the Anthropocene epoch agents are immersed in the planetary metabolic flow in which pharmacological doses are asymmetrically exchanged. Humans are no exception and our non-selective pharmacological spuriousness can result in deadly consequences. Can humans smell the rising resistance to antibiotics?

‘Meta_bolus’ exposes the metabolic process as an exchange of certain boluses or doses that define relationships as either beneficial or adverse. The laboratory structure in the centre of the installation embodies two connected loops of the metabolism of matter in our planet: human extraction of antibiotics from the Streptomyces rimosus bacteria and human consumption of volatile soil elements through the olfactory apparatus. The two looping processes excrete the two metabolites of the Streptomyces rimosus bacteria: the antibiotics and the geosmin aroma.

The antibiotics are returned back to the soil through the extraction process that takes place in laboratory glassware. The antibiotic compounds flow as a reminder that soil and dust are a phase in the metabolic process that no agent is able to escape. It also functions as a warning that every metabolic flow has a particular bolus that makes relationship between the agents in the flow beneficial or adverse. The Streptomyces rimosus bacteria shows how important it is to observe and know the bolus, for each bacteria includes the antibiotic as well as the resistance to it and thus the bolus determines whether the dose will be beneficial or adverse.

The central bioreactor in the Meta_bolus installation is inhabited by Streptomyces rimosus, a prolific producer of antibiotic oxytetracycline, which is used in human medicine, as well as animal and plant production. The global pharmaceutical companies extract three kilograms of oxytetracycline per second or a metric tonne every five hours. However, this represents merely one of the numerous antibiotics that humans extract from the various species of Streptomyces bacteria. The rhythm of the pump in the Meta_bolus installation reflects the extraction pattern of oxytetracycline in the pharmaceutical industry.

The parallel loop in the Meta_bolus installation includes the smelling of volatile soil compounds. The loop is open for humans who can inhale the smell of geosmin while visually observing the bacteria through a magnifying glass. The receptors reflect the human position in the metabolic process and place the human into the flow with an aromatic and visual immersion. The receptors are also technological extensions of the bacteria which reach into the human space and time, so that the Streptomyces rimosus bacteria can be perceived clearer.

The olfactory metabolic receptors are positioned as a gathering, through which two biological species from different spatial and temporal conditions can perceive and expand their environment. Meta_bolus tries to cross the interspecies gap through observation, smell and reflection. Through senses the visitor is lead to consider the geopolitical planetary metabolism.

Meta_bolus project was developed by Saša Spačal in Mirjan Švagelj v collaboration with Kapelica Gallery. Project was supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Ljubljana.

Construction: Scenart
Glassware: Zvonko Drobnič, Pero Kolobarić 
Photo: Karolina Prica
Special thanks: Asha Podgornik, Andrej Gregori, Dušan Komel
Production: Kapelica Gallery

Current solo exhibition
Meta_bolus, Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia