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UNG showcases microbes in new exhibit
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Erin McIntosh, artist and curator for the exhibit Tiny Enormous: Art Exploring Microbes, poses for a portrait in front of her paintings on Thursday, in Oakwood. The exhibit aims to expand people's knowledge and understanding of microbial organisms through various art pieces. - photo by David Barnes

Every living thing is art, even those too small to be seen with the naked eye. 

The University of North Georgia Biology and Visual Arts Departments have partnered to bring microscopic organisms to life in a new gallery, “Tiny Enormous: Art Exploring Microbes.”

The exhibition will be open until Sept. 28 for students, staff, faculty and the community to view.

‘Tiny Enormous: Art Exploring Microbes’

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday; closing reception 2-4 p.m. Sept. 27

Where: Roy C. Moore Gallery, Continuing Education and Performing Arts building, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood.

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“The gallery is a great resource because it provides educational opportunities to interact with artists. It really has an educational mission and it is open to not only the university, but the wider community,” Visual Arts Assistant Professor Erin McIntosh said.

McIntosh issued a national call and chose 13 artists who have interpreted microbes in various media from painting to video. There are artists from across the U.S. including professional artists, professors, Master of Fine Arts graduates, current UNG students and even one elementary school teacher who contributed 30 pieces of artwork for the show, she said.

“There is an array of artists at different points in their careers,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh also has paintings displayed in the gallery.

“My work takes a more imaginative interpretation of the idea of microorganisms without trying to illustrate a specific one or type. Some of the forms that are in the paintings are representative of the common shapes,” she said. “I did go to the biology lab to look at slides under a microscope — the compositions I saw, the microbes were arranged very organically.”

She said she has been intrigued with science since a young age.

“I have always been intrigued by images I would see in science textbooks and journals. I have never intensely studied science but when I was a child I had a microscope and I also went to space camp,” she said. “Images of things that are either too small or so vast that it is hard to see with the naked eye, I have always been drawn to that imagery.”

McIntosh said she has worked in abstraction for a long time and some of her work has dealt with scientific images.

“There is this disconnect when thinking of what is going on at the microscopic level. It is a mysterious place for me because I don’t have access to the microscope on a daily basis,” McIntosh said. “To think of illness, disease, all the things that happen that are out of our control to a degree — its intriguing and an exciting thing to think about.”

This interactive and cross-disciplinary exhibition is the result of a collaboration between biologists David Sangweme and Evan Lampert studying microbes and visual artists, including McIntosh, interpreting these microscopic organisms.

The hope is to dispel common misconceptions such as the view that all microbes are solely disease-causing germs, according to McIntosh.

“The ones that grab headlines are usually the pathogenic disease-causing microbes, which may affect our perception about what they are, how they affect us and how vital many are to our existence and world,” McIntosh said. “Most microbes either have a neutral effect or a positive effect.”

Each piece of artwork accompanies micrographs of the tiny organisms presented.

“They all speak to the complex microscopic universe that is beneath our every day. Because you need a special magnifying device to see these things, it opens up the imagination to what goes on at that level,” she said. 

During the four-hour reception Aug. 30, about 80 visitors had their personal items, as well as their own cheeks, swabbed. The samples will be displayed as a part of the artwork in petri dishes during the exhibit. 

“Visitors could really be a part of the exhibition,” McIntosh said. “They could touch, kiss, swap something they carried daily. People were assigned a number so they can find their plate and watch it in the coming weeks to see how it changes.”

A closing reception is planned from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 27, including a speech about the gallery.

This is the first exhibition in the newly renovated Roy C. Moore Gallery. The renovations took place in the summer, courtesy of the UNG facilities department.

“It’s wonderful. This gallery used to be covered in gray carpet up the walls,” McIntosh said. “Now we have clean white walls and it looks really professional.”

The gallery is located in the lobby of the Continuing Education and Performing Arts building at 3820 Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood.

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