March 24, 2016

Selin Balci: Known Territory

written by Olivia Desjardins, Curatorial and Exhibitions Intern

Selin Balci, Territory (detail), Microbial growth on yupo paper covered with scientific watch glasses, 2015-16
Selin Balci, Territory (detail), Microbial growth on yupo paper covered with scientific watch glass, 2015-16

Once, in grad school, someone asked me, “What’s the weirdest piece of art you ever made?” I won’t go into that here, but it’s a great segue to Selin Balci’s work, which she often refers to as BioArt.

Maryland-based artist Selin Balci has been exploring and discovering new ways to incorporate scientific material and media within her art.

In our current exhibition, King of the Forest: Adventures in Bioperversity, Balci uses highly patterned and colored microscopic entities to create a lushly visual and interactive biological arena.

She employs an astute scientific practice to create her works with microorganisms. “I feel like I’m a painter, but my paintings are alive,” Balci says.

Instead of having tubs of paint all over her studio, she has mold and fungus growing in her refrigerator. Washington CityPaper explained that Balci usually finds her specimens in soil and tree bark she collects from her backyard, but sometimes, her husband (a plant pathologist) or one of his lab assistants will offer her samples of brightly colored growths they’d planned to throw away.

Instead of having tubs of paint all over her studio, she has mold and fungus growing in her refrigerator

In Selin’s bio-art installation in KOTF, Territory, 69 Petri dishes compose a three-dimensional kaleidoscopic organic shape representing territorial wars and struggles for power and control among living organisms developed in an artificially created environment where all vital resources are restricted.

Installation view of Selin Balci's Territory (right) in the Meyer Gallery along with work by Leslie Shellow. Photo by Dawn Whitmore
Installation view of Selin Balci’s Territory (right) in the Meyer Gallery along with work by Leslie Shellow and Joan Danziger. Photo by Dawn Whitmore

She uses Yupo paper, a synthetic, water-resistant, translucent material that helps increase the fuzzy texture and luminous colors. Before placing the mold spores on the paper, she sterilizes both the paper and her instruments, so that mold spores in the air will not contaminate her mold pieces.

“Chance, of course, is involved,” she says. It takes about 1-2 months to grow each artistic mold piece. Within each hand “painted” Petri dish, molds and fungi are in an observable battle for limited resources.

Territory (detail). Photo by Dawn Whitmore
Territory (detail). Photo by Dawn Whitmore

Visually the Petri dishes, together, map a scene of human existence, and these microbes act as metaphors for war and the human predicament. Before the pieces are hung on the wall, each piece is dried out, so that the mold does not continue to grow and change.

So by the time these pieces become part of an exhibition the tiny battles for control and resources have been forcibly ended, and the microscopic entities are dead.

Selin’s curiosity in microbiology stemmed from her interest in making the invisible, visible. Mold and fungus are usually too small to be seen by the naked eye, so by making them bigger for all to see, these microbial pieces have claimed their own territory to live, grow, and be seen.

“I feel like I’m a painter, but my paintings are alive”

She also uses scientific watch glass to further illuminate the colors that the mold and fungus present. “This is not a typical material used in art”, Megan Rook-Koepsel, Exhibition Manager, states. Megan also says, “Selin would go to labs that were about to throw away this material, and collect it and use it for her pieces.”

Territory (detail)
Territory (detail)

Many who see these pieces, at first, believe it is bacteria. But in fact all of her work is safe, naturally grown mold and fungus.

This work has been featured in galleries in DC and New York. Some include Hamiltonian Gallery, Connersmith, Rush Arts Gallery, and Smack Mellon.

The installation here at AAC seems to be an out-growth of Selin’s Bordered World – a much larger-scale work installed on site at Smack Mellon last winter. This piece called for more than 2000 individual Petri dishes, or 2000 individual struggles, wars, victories, and massacres. Check out the time-lapse of the installation!

smackmellon from selin balci on Vimeo

King of the Forest: Adventures in Bioperversity will be on display until April 3, with a panel discussion and closing reception slated for Saturday, April 2.
Selin will be one of the panelists, so if you loved what you learned today, you can come hear from her and her fellow artists, as well as experts in the fields of biology and ecology.
Also on view at AAC: Rachel Schmidt’s solo exhibition Daydreams in the Anthropocene, on the Upper Level, and Instructor Select 2016, featuring work by AAC students and instructors, on the Lower Level.
Learn more about the KOTF Artists: Selin Balci | Krista Caballero | Anthony Cervino | Rebecca Clark | Lisa Crafts | David D’Orio | Joan Danziger | Frank Ekeberg | Talia Greene | Jonathan Monaghan | Lindsay Pichaske | Leslie Shellow | Henrik Sundqvist


Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics

UPCOMING: Opens June 15, 2024

Curated by Al Miner

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington is proud to present Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics, an exhibition celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Summer Camp Registration

June 17 – August 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington offers a wonderful and wide range of creative summer camps for your creative students! Camps are offered for kids starting at age 5 and up to teens ages 18.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.