TubeMogel description

Nikki Romanello enlists bones and bacteria to make art that reflects the transience of existence, the haphazard nature of evolution and the connections between all living creatures.

Longer text description
“Imitating Life” introduces Nikki Romanello, an artist whose work invites viewers to contemplate their place in the web of life. The evolution of Romanello’s work reflects evolution in nature: Found bones become bones cast in glycerin become skeletal animals from alternate prehistories, which in turn become prints. In her latest project, she uses “living paper” created by feeding kombucha tea to bacteria to create sculptures of tubeworms that live near hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean. In “Imitating Life,” Romanello shares some of what inspires her work and what she hopes people will take away from it.

Imitating Life
Nikki Romanello blurs the line between art and science

Tags: science, art, bioart, culture, biology, Genspace, Observatory, Cut Paste Grow


It’s weird, a lot of times with artists, there’s like a personal thing underlying their work, that we’re trained in an academic setting not to talk about the personal in our work. It’s kind of beaten out of us entirely, and we’re supposed to talk about the theoretical side of it. But every artist’s work, there’s always a personal story, a narrative that comes behind it.

I didn’t realize it at first, but when, when— I had adopted a greyhound, and she died of bone cancer, and I was looking— and during the time we were trying to figure out what was wrong with her, I was looking at a lot of X-Rays. And for an artist, the more time you spend looking at a certain object, it gets in your head, and it starts to affect the rest of your life. So for me, you know, it was, I’m looking at all of these X-Rays. And that image kind of like, burnt in my mind, and that’s when it started showing up in my work.

Since undergrad, I’ve been like, ‘what kind of, like, tube worm installation can I make?’ And so this is finally, like, arrived, the perfect material for it. It represents a symbiosis. So it’s yeast and bacteria together who are super happy and they’re producing this thriving culture. And that’s when I started taking the kombucha paper, wrapping it around the vacuum hose, and making that same shape.

Various people
(Indistinct chatter)

I’m just going to lift this up and do one little squirt, like in there.

Various people
(Indistinct chatter)

I would say my like, my ultimate goal with my work would be to bring science into art, um, and thereby bring science into culture . Because I feel like there’s not enough sources for people just in, in, just in general lie to appreciate science. Usually it’s introduced to them through public education. And a lot of times it’s mostly formulas and the periodic table, and theyq don’t really develop a true appreciation, understanding of science and its function in the world and how it pertains to them. So by bringing it into art and into a visual medium, something that people can interact with, um I feel like they’ll become closer it— they won’t be as intimidated by science, and maybe it will, hopefully, encourage them to do a little research on their own.

See the work of Romanello and other bioartists at the Observatory Room’s “Cut Paste Grow” exhibition in Brooklyn:

Hands-on bioscience for ordinary curious people at Genspace:

The Institute of Unnecessary Research, maintained by UK bioartist Anna Dumitriu:

Blog post
One major theme in Nikki’s work is all about the intimate and often unseen interactions between all living things— highlighting the very real, non-mystical and even mundane ways we’re bound up in a web of what a Buddhist would call “dependent origination.” No one exists in a vacuum; we’re all connected with one another.

So in more ways than one, it was a delightful surprise to find out that, unbeknownst to one another, Nikki and I grew up in the same suburb in Texas, graduated in the same high school class and even moved to Brooklyn around the same time. Talk about hidden connections! If I hadn’t volunteered to shoot video for Genspace and learned about Nikki’s work, we might never have crossed paths— and we both would have been the poorer for it.

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