E. coli

Luke Jerram

This body of glass work has been developed since 2004. Made to contemplate the global impact of each disease, the artworks were created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially colored imagery we receive through the media. In fact, viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. By extracting the color from the imagery and creating jewel like beautiful sculptures in glass, a complex tension has arisen between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent.

His transparent and colorless glassworks consider how the artificial colouring of scientific microbiological imagery, affects our understanding of these phenomena. See these examples of HIV imagery. If some images are colored for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly colored? Are there any colour conventions and what kind of ‘presence’ do pseudocolored images have that ‘naturally’ colored specimens don’t? How does the choice of different colors affect their reception?

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Photographs of Jerram’s glass artworks are now used widely in medical journals, text books and media stories and are seen as useful representations of virology within the scientific community. His work has been presented in The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and on the front cover of Nature Magazine.

The sculptures are designed in consultation with virologists from the University of Bristol, using a combination of different scientific photographs and models. They are made in collaboration with glassblowers Kim George, Brian Jones and Norman Veitch.


The sculptures of HIV were made as objects to hold, to contemplate the impact of the disease upon humanity. The artworks were also created to consider how the use of artificially added colour in medical imaging effects how the imagery is read and interpreted by the public. See these examples of scientific HIV imagery. How does the choice of different colours affect their reception? In response to these questions, Jerram has created a series of transparent, three dimensional sculptures of HIV. Ironically in 2007 photographer David Sayer won an award from the Institute of Medical Imaging for the artificially coloured image (above) he took of Jerrams HIV sculpture. With thanks to the Wellcome Collection for use of the imagery. Editions of this work are on display in The Wellcome Collection, London, Bristol City Museum, Alexander Tutsek Foundation, Germany and the Corning Museum, New York. One edition was auctioned for the HIV/Aids Charity AVERT, raising money for victims in South Africa.
Swine Flu
The 2009 flu pandemic was an outbreak of a new strain of H1N1 influenza virus, usually referred to as “swine flu“. First described in April 2009, the virus appeared to be a new strain of H1N1 which resulted when a previous triple re-assortment of bird, swine and human flu viruses further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus.[3] Unlike most strains of influenza, H1N1 does not disproportionately infect adults older than 60 years; this was an unusual and characteristic feature of the H1N1 pandemic. Editions of this work are in the Cosmo Caixa Barcelona and the Wellcome Collection, London.
E. coli
Escherichia coli, commonly abbreviated E. coli, is a Gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms (endotherms). Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some, such as serotype O157:H7, can cause serious food poisoning in humans, and are occasionally responsible for product recalls. The harmless strains are part of the normal flora of the gut, and can benefit their hosts by producing vitamin K2, and by preventing the establishment of pathogenic bacteria within the intestine. Editions of this work are in the Chazen Museum(US) and the Wellcome Collection(UK). Works have been displayed at Museum of Art and Design NYC, Glasstress -Venice Biennale, Oklahoma City Museum, NCCD (UK), Cosmo Caixa Barcelona.
These sculptures respresent the Malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum Merozoite). The smooth model shows the parasite just after it has entered a red blood cell. The spike malaria shows the Plasmodium before. See here for more information about the life cycle of Malaria. The first edition of the artwork was made especially for the charity Malaria No More. This work has recently been on display in the Museum of Art and Design, NYC and at the Heller Gallery. The Wellcome Collection in London have acquired editions of these sculptures for their permanent collection.
Of all human infectious diseases, smallpox is believed to have resulted in more human deaths throughout history than from any other single pathogen. The causative agent of smallpox, Variola virus, was eradicated from natural existence in 1977, through a global vaccination effort administered by the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, the only official stores of Variola are in freezers of two research sites: one at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and one at the VECTOR research facility in Russia. Should these samples be kept for future scientific research? Or should they be destroyed as the samples are too dangerous to keep? Jerram’s sculpture was used on the front cover of a book debating these issues. Editions of this work are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Corning Museum, New York and The Wellcome Collection, London.
Avian Flu
Avian Influenza, commonly known as Bird Flu, refers to “influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds”. The first version, made in 2005 and is one of Jerram’s earliest glass microbiological artworks. As such it is more abstract than the later 2012 artwork. In 2009, The Mori Museum, Tokyo exhibited this work in a show called Medicine and Art, with works from Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Marc Quinn and Leonardo da Vinci. Wellcome Collection, London. With thanks to the Wellcome Collection for use of the imagery above.
Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory (breathing) illnesses, such as a common cold, conjunctivitis (an infection in the eye), croup and bronchitis. They are common and highly contagious. Most adenovirus infections are mild.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a serious form of pneumonia, caused by a virus isolated in 2003. Infection with the SARS virus results in acute respiratory distress (severe breathing difficulty) and sometimes death. It is a dramatic example of how quickly world travel can spread a disease. It is also an example of how quickly a networked health system can respond to an emerging threat. This work has recently been displayed at the UN in Geneva for the Conference of Non Proliferation of Biological Weapons! Editions of this work are in the Cosmo Caixa Barcelona, Arkansas Arts Center and the Wellcome Collection, London.
Glass works on exhibit in The Hague
Detail, Enterovirus 71
Enterovirus 71 (EV71) is one of the major causative agents for hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). This virus is a member of the enterovirus species A. This virus appears to have evolved only recently with the first known strain was isolated in 1965. It was associated with an outbreak of neurological disease in the United States in 1969. The artwork was commissioned by a scientific research center in 2012. An edition of this work is in the permanent collection of the Wellcome Trust in London.
Untitled Future Mutation
This is a fictional virus, a future virus that has yet to be born. Has this virus been created in the laboratory or evolved naturally? Will the impact of this virus be of benefit or hinderance to humanity? The common public perception is that the only function of viruses is to cause disease. But research has now found a substantial amount of evidence that they serve several major roles in ecology and are actually essential for life. Without viruses, the genetic revolution we are now experiencing would be impossible. They also serve numerous beneficial functions that we are just beginning to research and understand. This artwork was discussed in the glass Journal Neues Glass and the New York Times.

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