Subculture: Microbial Metrics and the Multi-Species City

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Exhibitions NYC, NY, USA September 19, 2018 - January 12, 2019

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New York’s renowned Storefront for Art and Architecture presents this exhibition, which examines the diverse and abundant species that occupy our cities. The “Tree of Life,” an index of all biological organisms on earth, indicates that 99 per cent of all life on Earth is invisible to the human eye, both unnamed and unnoticed. In our cities, microbial ecologies are uniquely complex.  As we have popularized the term “human microbiome,” we must ask: Does New York have a gut biome? Is it different from the gut biome of Tokyo? Lagos? Hyderabad? Is the gut biome of Soho distinct from the gut biome of Jackson Heights? How does diversity, demographic and microbial, affect medical, social, and even interpersonal outcomes for the people who live in each city? Recent advances in a field called metagenomics allow us to extract genetic “fingerprints” of microorganisms that we can’t otherwise track, and to shepherd a new understanding of the value of microorganisms, rather than an interest in eliminating them.

Subculture: Microbial Metrics and the Multi-Species City uses this new understanding to reframe the value of the urban landscape around us. The exhibition brings together work in biology, data science, material science, and design to flip the notion of a “healthy” city on its sterile head. An active metagenomic sequencing laboratory in Storefront’s gallery space will explore the invisible ecologies of our built environment, provoking deeper analysis of the character and evolution of the abundant genetic landscape of our cities. This installation, along with the scientific analysis of various sites across the city, gives us a model to broaden our realm of inquiry, pushing for greater resilience, diversity, and responsiveness of the urban fabric, and arguing that the collective future is a lot more collective than any of us can see or imagine.

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