Sub-Mergings: A Wetland Project (The Center for the Study of the Collective)
May – December, 2006
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis


Sub-Mergings began with a simple observation: human beings are over 90% bacteria. What does it mean then to think of ourselves as “self-reliant” individuals? Our non-human composition would suggest that we are not individuals but ecosystems of many differing creatures and logics. Undertaken as a year and a half research project at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, spurse set up a microbiological lab to sample the entire contents of the museum and gardens, and research in microbiological and philosophical terms our ideas about the embedded nature of self-hood. Spurse then proposed a new paradigm for understanding our nature:culture entanglements and created institution-wide change within the museum.


As part of it’s research, spurse analyzed the entire museum and grounds from a microbiological perspective focusing primarily on bacteria, fungi, insects and seeds and then constructed a large laboratory within the museum. Multiple lectures, workshops, exercises, tours and interpretive programming supported and deepened the public’s engagement with the research (see below). From the research Spurse was able to develop a new visual language for looking at emergent structures across human:non-human systems which then led to a number of articles and diagrams that were published on the topic.


Public programming was critical to this project. Spurse began by hosting a series of meetings to bring together diverse communities for the consideration of core questions. Lectures and workshops were offered to the public and volunteers participated by building gardens, looking for fungi, and collecting bacteria. Spurse created a new guide to the museum, a new visitors’ map, self-guided exercises, an ipod tour–considered in 2006 by USA Today to be one of the 10 best of a US museum–and developed new signage and didactics for the entire institution. A two-day conference and workshop was organized with guests from across the fields of science and art.


This project involved work with many different organizations, communities, and individuals. In total Spurse collaborated with over 100 people to make this project possible. Here are some highlights:

  • Universities: Purdue (Department of Art, Dept. of Botany & Plant Pathology, Dept. of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture), Columbia (Computer Science, Urbanism), Indiana (School of Medicine, Dept. of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Center for Earth & Environmental Science, Jane S. Dutton Educational Resource Center), SUNY Oswego (Dept. of Art).
  • Departments at the IMA: Conservation, Curatorial, Custodial, Design, Education, Exhibits, Grounds, Horticulture, Protection Services
  • Individuals: Patrick Gillespie, Pattie Quackenbush, Rosanne Altstatt, Burkhard Schutz, Chris DeFabis, Joshua Sobieski-Pepple
  • Support: Marilyn S. Bartlett, IMA Contemporary Art Society, Big Car Gallery, Indy Acupuncture, Jarden Home Brands, McNair Scholars Program, MMS Medical Supply Co., Repro Graphics Inc.

"Differences were investigated not as inconveniences but as matters of substance. In my opinion, spurse’s provocation, production, and record of our institutional dialogues moved beyond purely provocative critique and actually forced awareness of and discussions about incongruities in philosophy or strategy in the institution. A number of museum staff and departments engaged in constructive conversations as a result of spurse’s project. Participating in this project had lasting results for the institution, as well as deep personal impact on me." Rebecca Uchill (Curator)