Transmission Electron Microscope.

TEMs use electrons as “light source” and their much lower wavelength makes it possible to get a resolution a thousand times better than with a light microscope(from the Nobel Prize website)

Hypothesized in 1929 by Knoll and Ruska at the Technische Hochschule, it was first built in 1932. A North American prototype of the transmission electron microscope (TEM) was constructed starting in 1937 at the University of Toronto. For a detailed account of the history and the politics involved in its construction and its initial and later applications see Rasmussen, N, in Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 1996







Caitlin Berrigam

built as a multipart project and a MA thesis at MIT, Caitlin Berrigam’s  “Life Cycle of a common weed” explores the encounters between plants and humans through the interface of blood. In this case, blood, we soon realize, carries the hepatitis C virus, an element that immediately becomes an inadvertent protagonist in this project.

The presence of the virus is felt throughout the project  through its appearance as  a chocolate truffle faithfully reproduced “from a magnified 3D cryoelectron micrograph” found in the Protein Data Bank, to test the spectator’s “desire to eat the enticing chocolates mixed with a repulsion for the infectious virus”; it is found printed on “letters to a virus”; it’s molecular shape is used to build domes wherein to engage in constructive conversations etc… there is enough material to challenge  popular assumptions of contagion and virus-human coexistence .

Caitlin Birrigam, Viral Confections, 2007

Caitlin Birrigam, Letter to a Virus, 2007

The accuracy of the appearances and the material used, chocolate, unavoidably triggers anxiety regarding Hepatitis C and its means of transmission. The edible form of this particular representation exposes the uncanny familiarity and ubiquity of this virus, with which many people often silently and secretly, sometimes unknowingly, coexist.

baroque unfolding

The “leaving out” Turkle refers to can be interpreted as an instance of transformation, which needs to be accompanied by an equal transformation of our way of thinking.

Where do we find the object amidst this complex overlapping and converging of raw data, digital and analog and arbitrary manipulation? It would be VERY difficult, and frankly useless to try and discern what is left of the “real object”. what is interesting, instead, is to reflect on its multilayered-ness, as the object becomes a complex hybrid, one that effectively manifests an

..implosion of informatics and biologics, one that is not born, but it is made (Haraway, 1991).

as Haraway so elegantly put it. more specifically, the object becomes a text dense of metaphors and tropes, a knitted fabric from which we may extract both scientific data and cultural material, which may shed some light on the complex and unavoidable meshing of information and biology as a new paradigm that is no longer the exception, but the norm. In other words: emerging from the piles of layers constructed by technology, human intervention and professional expertise, we might see the resulting object as neither lost nor hidden, but simply transformed. A process of transformation that reflects what Anna Munster sees as a clear sign of the decline of Cartesianism:

The digital conceived as part of a baroque flow, now unfolds genealogically out of the baroque articulation of the differential relations between embodiment and technics.. . in this baroque unfolding, the binary pairs that have populated the understanding of digital culture and new media technologies, can be seen to impinge upon each other rather than be mutually exclusive.(Munster, Materializing New Media 2009)

digitization and many worlds

Potts and Murphie argue that with the mediation of computer interface, we have to come to term with a different reality. Advanced computation has gradually given us

access to the nonlinear, emergent and dissolving orders of complexity and we can afford to abandon generalizing linear narratives without abandoning all understanding of the world. (Potts and Murphie, Culture and Technology, 2008)

The consequence is that we can

conceive of patterns within complex interactions such as those between collective human life and the other flows of matter and energy in which this life occurs.(Murphie and Potts 122)

But with the proliferation of digitization and the neverending possibilities we have to study further, to expand our notion of the world come also an increasing number of possibilities that both help us understand, but also confuse life and non-life, digital and analog etc… in this –literally— bottomless amount of resources and research, we are forced to leave out, or better leave behind, something, and come to term with the fact that what counts as Nature with capital N is forever broken.

visualization and simulation

Shelley Turkle, talking about simulation, defines it as a process that

brings new ways to see and forget (Turkle, S. Simulation and its Discontents, 2009)

Considering visualization a particular type of simulation, then we can interpret the above statements as  a. something that reveals but at the same time leaves out elements that constitute the object but are overlooked or deemed unimportant. b. something that transforms the object studied into something that is neither real, nor completely artificial, an object of the in-between, that nonetheless can provide an “idea” of what the object would look like if we magnified it millions of times of if we were able to see it without any interfaces.


natural, cultural and technological

By invoking the concept of machinic heterogenesis, Guattari implies that not only the construction of different discourses converging to produce a visualization of viruses, but also the forces involved in such productions implies a co-participation of individuals, technologies and other (media)objects (and not only individuals, as Foucault appeared to infer).

This can be verified by looking at the images of viruses produced by scientific visualization and information visualization. three elements jump to our mind immediately

  1. The subtle overlapping of different forces converging into one single image are no longer distinguishable
  2. The distinction between what is biological and what is informational tend to converge in scientific visualization and information visualization
  3. The methodologies use to do research on informational matter and biological matter are involved in a continuous exchange and borrowing from each other

technologies as convergence

Van Loon points out that, if technoscience is driven by a desire for the “colonization of the unknown,” it can only do so by

creating another remainder: this remainder is none other than an index, which defies visualization (Van Loon 2002, p. 108).

The technologies used are responsible too for confirming such reminder, by simultaneously revealing, and building distance from the virus. By staining, magnifying, visualizing viruses trough a microscope, we are attempting to understand the subject and, thus, to neutralize our fear of what such invisible agent is capable of doing. By passing the object through a microscope we get data which then are processed and visualized or animated thanks to software and hardware. Paradoxically, the very technologies that should reveal, by displaying viruses (thus contributing to eliminate the fear they cause) end up making them disappear under multiple layers of technology and interpretations. At the same time, this series of translations and technological layering are generators of creativity, as a  diverse range of techniques and methodologies are continuously added to achieve different goals: aesthetic, medical, plain scientific, or methods that are just abiding to conventions dictated by popular culture.  By continuously iterating the idea of knowledge as both boundary-crossing and boundary-building, these technologies simultaneously reflect and reinforce both anxieties and curiosity engendered by the invisible and the microscopic.