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Should I Stay or Should I Go?


Exhibition 28 February – 3 April 2020

Bacteria are everywhere. They can be found in astonishing diversity and abundance throughout most of our planet. The total mass of all bacteria on earth outweighs all animals and plants combined. Some bacteria can cause disease, illness, and infection; yet others exist in an intimate symbiosis with their hosts, without which it is unlikely either could survive. They give us botulism, syphilis and bubonic plague, but also yogurt, salami, and sourdough bread. How different species interact is key to community functioning. The nature of such interactions ranges from chemical warfare to the cooperative production of compounds that are beneficial to, and can be exploited by, other species. Such social behaviors routinely require collective decision-making, in which individuals detect and collate information from both their physical and social environment.

Dr Tim Cockerill is a photographer and science communicator from the Institute of Photography at Falmouth University. Specialising in macro photography, he champions organisms that are often overlooked because of their size. Dr Elze Hesse is a Research Fellow working in the Environment and Sustainability Institute. Her research focuses on how species interactions are affected by environmental challenges. In collaboration, they have been carrying out assays on Paenibacillus, a gram-positive bacterium often found in soil, to determine whether social cues elicited by other species affect swarming behavior. Through the production of a series of large-scale macro photographic images, the exhibition visualizes the effects of social and environmental cues on swarming behaviour in a model bacterium. Some of the bacteria have been isolated from local soils contaminated with metals and other industrial residues.

Exhibition opening night 28 February 5-7pm in the ESI Creative Studio. Refreshments served, all welcome.

See the full exhibition online:



Should I stay or should I go? is part of an extended programme of art-science collaborations on the topic of Underworlds, hosted by the ESI Creative Exchange from January-June 2020. In a series of four projects, artists and researchers are exploring themes of the underground, the undersea, the hidden and the microscopic. Collaborators will use scientific techniques and creative practices to better understand the habitats and behaviour of subterranean and submarine lifeforms, and work with earth pigments and ocean sediments to produce visual representations of invisible or inaccessible worlds. Several of the projects engage with the specificity of the Cornish landscape, and its legacy of mining and mineral extraction.