Art Project: travel from the perspective of a Leishmania parasite

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A commission with NEON      in collaboration with Jen Southern and Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research at Dundee University.  PARA-SITE-SEEING is a digital artwork launched in Dundee and online in November 2018, as part of NEoN Digital Arts Festival under its theme of lifespans. Considering the lifespan of the parasite that causes Leishmaniasis, the work takes a playful approach to how the sand fly transmits the parasite, and how the parasite transforms itself to live in different hosts – both animal and human.

Avoiding excessive anthropomorphism was a challenge but in the end it went down that route! Considering the potential audience this seemed the best route.  Seeing the world through the perspective of  travelling Leishmania was the goal. Several travel themes were developed relating to history, the lab, the insect vector and the human.  Sand_flyer instagram, was done in my lab, the journey of Leishmania through my lab as it came out of cryopreservation, into culture then prepared to be suspended in blood in a membrane feeder and fed on by sandflies. I wrote the hashtags to accompany the insta. Leishmania.we was also a storyline I developed around the travels of Leishmania in the wild.  I used some video that I took in Teresina NE Brazil during a sandfly collecting visit a few years ago.  I also made some video in the Tuscan countryside this year using a close up lens attached to my iPhone. There happened to be sand flies in the rental villa, so it was thoroughly authentic.

@LDBob72 is the name of a strain of Leishmania, we developed a twitter account from the perspective of a Leishmania parasite searching for their ancestors. I found this activity quite eye opening and it did change my own perspective to a certain extent. I could see the progress that we have made over  the past 100 years in working with these parasites in the lab. Being able to cryostore them as a routine and grow them in liquid  culture is something we take for granted but when first done would have been a real breakthrough! Chatting to people as a parasite is actually quite difficult. It also made me think doubt how dominant humans are on this planet with zero tolerance towards something like a Leishmania parasite. On the other hand its interesting to see scientists attitude towards the parasite that they are trying to kill; they are actually very fond of their parasites.

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