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Johnny DiBlasi

Author: Heather Sauer | Image: Heather Sauer

Johnny DiBlasi, assistant professor of art and visual culture, has been awarded a one-month residency at the University of Buffalo’s Coalesce Center for Biological Art to pursue the inaugural project of a new arts and research group he co-founded with Carlos Castellanos and Bello Bello.

During the residency, the three artists will develop a new project, “Beauty,” a hybrid biological-technological installation featuring a bio-driven artificial intelligence (AI) system that remediates contaminated soil ecology while generating an audio-visual component in real time. The fates of the contaminated soil and a group of bacterial cultures incorporated in the work will be determined by AI that develops an internal model of “beauty” by observing the cooperative pattern-forming and swarming behaviors of numerous bacterial species such as Paenibacillus dendritiformis.

This species of bacteria produces intricate branching growth patterns in response to environmental conditions. It is also known to aid in the bioremediation of heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (present in coal, motor oil, etc.) that are often found in soils, rivers, and estuarine and coastal sediments.

For the Coalesce Center residency, DiBlasi, Castellanos and Bello will build the system and research ways to genetically modify cultures of several species of bacteria to express other novel (and potentially aesthetically pleasing) features such as bioluminescence and a wider variety of growth and spatial patterns. The project will complement DiBlasi’s ongoing work with machine learning and physical computing while advancing new skills working with microscopy and bacterial culturing. DiBlasi will travel to Buffalo and work in the lab as an artist-in-residence from mid-October to mid-November. The completed project will be exhibited in spring 2021.