Anna Dumitriu: ‘Getting out of your comfort zone’

We have invited Anna Dumitriu, an artist working at the forefront of art and science collaborative practice to share her inspiring story as part of our series dedicated to Women active in Digital Creativity. Anna will be speaking and presenting her work at FutureFest on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 March 2015

If you would like to nominate women and supportive men who are active movers and shakers in the field of digital creativity to share their stories and thoughts with our readers in the coming months  please do get in touch


“I am quite an unusual case”

I am quite an unusual case because I am an artist working in fields where artists rarely get involved, or at least not to the extent that I do, by embedding myself into the workings of the researchers in a hands on, practical way.

In microbiology and medicine there are many female researchers and academics at all levels, including at the very top, so I always feel they are very open and work very happily with everyone. In medicine in the past there was a strong patriarchal ‘the doctor knows best’ attitude, particularly in areas such as tuberculosis care where until around 70 years ago there was no proper treatment and I am fascinated by the rhetoric in old medical text books and patient information leaflets, which I used a lot in my exhibition “The Romantic Disease”.  But because of this history much work has been done to counteract that way of being. It can still occur, in fields such as surgery, but does not seem to go unchallenged in the way it would have done in the past.

My collaborations with the science world have formed and built up over time and my longest running collaboration is with Dr John Paul who is currently the lead microbiologist for the South East Region for Public Health England and strongly involved with the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project (a collaboration between Oxford University and Public Health England) where I am artist in residence. This groundbreaking project is looking at how new technologies, such as whole genome sequencing of bacteria, can be implemented in public health in the UK and is at the forefront of research in this field globally.

“Female digital pioneers are rarely properly recognised in comparison to the male pioneers”

In the digital art world I do feel that it is harder for women and that the female digital pioneers who worked in the early days are rarely properly recognised in comparison to the male pioneers. I find this extremely frustrating and I am actively trying to do something about. When I first became artist is residence in the Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at the University of Sussex in 2004 it was very common for me to find myself the only woman in the room. But times are changing and now in my role as a visiting research fellow and artist in residence in the Department of Computer Science at Hertfordshire University, along with Alex May, I find there is now a much broader mix. I feel very supported by both Professor Bruce Christianson, Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and Dr Mick Walters there and together we developed “My Robot Companion”  that will be shown at FutureFest in March.

“It is very important for scientists, medics and technologists to work with artists”

I think it is very important for scientists, medics and technologists to work with artists. It is an important perspective to allow and enable. By working with me my colleagues have told me that it enables them to look at their work in very different ways and to bring in the emotional aspects that science pretends to avoid. At the moment I am working with developing DIY methods for whole genome sequencing and trying to work around and test low cost methods to understand if this is possible, and to investigate what barriers I come up against  – but my work is primarily art, I guess a form of conceptual or processed based art which will lead to the construction of an installation.

“I read all I can, I go to events and I try to make things”

I have always found that doors open to me when I am passionate the subject and have done lots of personal research. I read all I can, I go to events and I try to make things. In that way I learn by osmosis – sometimes I’ve sat through entire conferences, which are way out of my comfort zone. I write down what I don’t understand and I find out what it means. I think people are often too worried to ask and look stupid but I find scientists are very willing to explain and share ideas. Of course I always warn them that it might turn into a new work of art!



Anna Dumitriu’s work is at the forefront of art and science collaborative practice, with a strong interest in the ethical issues raised by emerging technologies and a focus on microbiology and healthcare. Her installations, interventions and performances use a range of biological, digital, and traditional media including live bacteria, robotics, interactive media, and textiles. She has a strong international exhibition profile, having exhibited at The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, The Science Gallery in Dublin, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Taipei, and The V & A Museum in London. Her work is held in several major public collections, including the Science Museum in London. She is the founder and director of “The Institute of Unnecessary Research”, a group of artists and scientists whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries and critiques contemporary research practice and won the 2012 Society for Applied Microbiology Communication Award.

Dumitriu holds the post of Artist in Residence on the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at The University of Oxford in collaboration with Public Health England, a Visiting Research Fellowship: Artist in Residence position with the Department of Computer Science at The University of Hertfordshire, and a Visiting Research Fellowship: Lead Artist position with the Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health Research. She is also a Research Fellow with Waag Society and Lead Artist on the Creative Europe supported project “Trust Me, I’m an Artist” which investigates the novel ethical problems that arise when artists create artwork in laboratory settings. Her book of the same name, co-authored with Professor Bobbie Farsides, was published in 2014. Her ongoing project “The Romantic Disease: An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis” was funded by the Wellcome Trust and is now touring internationally. She is currently working on “Sequence” which investigates the technologies behind whole genome sequencing of bacteria, funded by Arts Council England, and two new commissions for The Human Microbiome exhibition at Eden Project