On May 28th 2014, artist-scientist François-Joseph Lapointe set out with a team of assistants to conduct a unique performance/experiment. He shook hands with over 1000 people at the University of Copenhagen’s Panum Institute. Every 50 handshakes, the microbes on his palm were sampled, and the data is being processed to reveal how his hand microbiome changed… Would the number and diversity of bacteria increase without limit or reach a natural plateau? This scientific question also raises more philosophical ones – if bacteria play a crucial role in the life of the human organism, is who and what we touch part of who we are?
Below is a two minute film of the performance, showing the range of reactions as François-Joseph roamed corridors, offices, libraries, and labs searching for hands to shake. Whilst a few were reluctant, or eagerly used hand sanitiser after the lab-coated assistants explained the goal of the experiment, most people were happy to take part. We’ll be repeating the performance on Culture Night, 10th October at Medical Museion, and are intrigued to see how reactions might change in a museum full of people and full of medical history… Will we get through more hand sanitiser? Will we reach 1000 handshakes this time?
On Culture Night we’re also opening new exhibit Hello Bacteria!, featuring microbiome research and some of François-Joseph’s art-science work. François-Joseph will also be giving a public talk about self-experimentation entitled Me, myself, my wife, and the bacteria between us on Wednesday 15th October at 3pm in the Medical Museion auditorium – free with entry to the museum or a KU ID card.
Project in collaboration with Medical Museion and the NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen. Also supported by the Danish Arts Foundation, Université de Montréal, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Music: Johnny Ripper – Halls of science
Stock footage: Edward R. Jenkins
Footage: Anne Kathrine Baastrup
Titles: Louise Whiteley
Edit: Esben Stephansen