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Microbial Emancipation (2020)


The reliquary holds mitochondria from the artist’s blood that used to be a free bacterium. In each of our cells, we have these ancient bacteria that are the source of our energy and still keep their own independent genome. This work acknowledges and detaches this key organelle to remind us of our deepest relation to microorganisms.



MMGerdau-Fotos-CoMciencia-MaroPebo (1)



We don’t know what we have until we lose it.

There is a clear trend in increased interest in microbiomes, especially the human microbiome. The first awareness was to our dependence to microorganisms for human health. Within this anthropocentric interest in microorganisms, originally just to understand their role in human health, we have moved from the skin microbiome to deeper in the gut microbiome and then to the biochemical relation of the gut and the brain, pointing to unknown relations among our nervous system and our microsymbiotants. Continued by the possible gene exchange among bacteria and gut cells. This ever deeper relation stops in the difference, us with our animal cells, and them, the microbes.


MMGerdau-Exposição-CoMciência-CristaisTempo (18)



What the emancipation of the mitochondrial aims at, is to frame and visualize the well-known fact that our relationship is deeper. Bacteria are not just everywhere around but also somehow inside. Animal and plant life is possible because of this hipper intimate relation. In a deep past, the mitochondria was an independent living bacteria, engulfed by a bigger Archaeon that loss its genes and its independence, to become the energy source of eucaryotic cells and be protected by them.

This is a mind-blowing fact that transforms the relation with microorganisms. We have known about the bacterial past of chloroplasts and mitochondria for decades thanks to the work of Lynn Margulis, but this artwork wants to make it material, have it happen, help up experience it in each of our cells. The mitochondria in a deep past was an independent living bacterium, engulfed by a bigger Archea lost its genes and independence to power an animal cell and be reproduced and protected by it.

All of our stories, our desires our human culture have developed around macroscopic beings. The emancipation of the mitochondria wants to include remote endosymbiotic bacteria in the understanding of the self of all macroscopic species, with all the reinterpretations it implies. This is the framing that makes visible the deepest intimacy of microorganisms and macroscopic organisms.

This work is the violent extraction of the mitochondria out of an animal cell to exist as an independent entity. A forcing out as an act of unwanted liberation unrequested emancipation. A literal undoing of the unlikely yet fundamental collaboration that allowed for most known forms of life. Undo to visibilize.

The emancipation of the mitochondria is a ritual, is a sacrifice, killing the cell to defy all doubt, the mitochondrion lies bare, alone as an offering and proof.

Visit the exhibition here until March 2021

Pictures by Lucas D’Ambrosio / MM Gerdau – Museu das Minas e do Metal (@dambrosiolp y @mmgerdau)

Work by Maro Pebo in collaboration with Malitzin Cortes y Yun W Lam.

Virtual environment Malitzin Cortes CNDSD

3D modeling and video Malitzin Cortes CNDSD

Modeling and production of the reliquary Victor Torres (Climanyaro)

Portuguese subtitles Ana Clara Oliveira Garner

Mitochondria Yunque Fabrica de Arte.

Mitochondria extraction: Hersson Vazquez, laboratorio del Dr Juan Pedro Luna Arias, CINVESTAV.

Produced with the support of a PAPIAM CENART grant.