Philosopher Klasien Horstman & visual artist Marlies Vermeulen, winners of the Mingler Scholarship 2020 investigate from a scientific and artistic perspective the influence of borders on infections and their prevention. As research instrument for their project 'Bacteria & Borders. Experimental cartography between art, lab & (daily) life’ they us cartopological maps.

How to organise a Mingler collaboration about bacteria and borders, a topic that became more urgent than we could have expected a year ago? Together, we will investigate from a social, medical, biomedical, ethical, anthropological and artistic perspective how borders play a role in infections and their prevention.

Cartopological maps

We will do this by creating 'cartopological maps'. Cartopological maps act as a research instruments to explore and document the role of ‘place’, in this case border regions in the world of bacteria. We scheduled monthly working sessions of several hours and mid-March we had a first online artistic-scientific working session. In this meeting we stumbled upon some interesting ideas, assumptions and expectations with respect to this collaboration.  

Artistic-scientific cooperation

First, it became clear that both the artists as well as the scientists have ideas and doubts about their ‘role’. Marlies felt the necessity to present and to account for her work as an artistic researcher towards Klasien, Alena and Lisa as ‘scientists’ and to make ‘a fierce statement’. She wanted to ensure that we do not end up in a work division that entails a classic role of artistic work as only illustrating the scientific analysis. She feels that our collaboration should not only address how her maps can be better tailored to the scientific content but should help to develop the cartopological approach as such.

As scientists, Klasien, Alena and Lisa departed from the idea their data can feed into cartopological representations, somehow subordinate to and in function of the ‘artistic’ cartopological approach. Not to ‘’illustrate’’ but to provide new understandings and new imaginations of ‘bacteria and borders’. Working in the humanities, Klasien, Alena and Lisa are used to working with colleagues in biology or medicine, but artistic research is far less familiar. Thus, both from the artistic and the scientific perspective it was not that clear what to expect from the collaboration ‘in practice’.


A second issue that popped up in the first session had to do with ‘method’ and ’transparency’. Marlies scheduled fieldwork in the Nieuwstraat/Neustraße, a two-kilometre-long border street located in both the German town Herzogenrath as well as in the Dutch town Kerkrade, with the aim to articulate the ‘tacit knowledge’ of a local and daily manifestation of the border. Covid-19 measurements differ at both sides of the border, but how do the inhabitants deal with this? She started from locality and intimacy, aiming to grasp the manifestation of bacterial impact on daily life on the chosen location. For example, in and around the street it is often inevitable to cross the border in the daily life perspective. For work, school, family and grocery shopping habits the border does not seem to exist. That does not mean that the Covid-19 legislation is not taken in account. In Germany only ffp2 mouth masks are allowed in shops. Consequently, more of those specific masks were also to be seen in and around the border on the Dutch side.

In this way, the mapping starts not from abstractions but from daily-life examples.

Borders and pandemic

As scientific researchers, Klasien, Alena and Lisa also have studied how borders manifest themselves during the pandemic. They studied how professionals and experts in public health consider the numbers of infectious diseases as reported in the area where this project takes place, the countries Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. They did in-depth interviews with public health workers in these countries, however, due to the conditions for ethical approval for this project, the raw data of these interviews cannot be made available for this project. Formal ethical approval of a research project within Maastricht University entails that interviewees and their professional organizations give informed consent to use the interviews for a specific aim, and we cannot simply use these data in another context or for another project. The analysis is, though. This issue has not been tackled yet but we all are aware of the fact that this seemingly emblematic difference between artistic and scientific research should not be in the way of the collaboration and content with which we aim to work.

Artistic research

The issue also raises specific questions. The scientific researchers stress that the research can be as ‘’wild’’ as possible, as long as the procedure can be explained and is transparent. What makes a research an artistic research? Because an ‘artist’ is involved? Or because, instead of an academic text, the result of the project will be a map? To be sure, scientists make maps as well. Can the artistic methodologies bring things to the surface that scientific researchers cannot? May be, the artistic-scientific collaboration might not result in better understandings or representations but in identifying and demonstrating new problems for both artistic and scientific researchers of bacteria and borders.

Klasien Horstman & Marlies Vermeulen

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