Examining Gut Flora

There are a lot of metaphors for a city like Buffalo, N.Y., especially at this current point in its erratic history. It’s been referred to as a sinking whale, a beam of light, even royalty. The one that artist Shasti O’Leary Soudant uses in her new installation, Gut Flora, is my favorite: a living, breathing body.

Gut Flora was commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery as part of its ongoing push for more public art. It’s located in the Allen Street Metro stop in the new University at Buffalo medical school building. Here, in what is effectively the front door to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, we see colorful, bombastic strands of bacteria, probing up through the floor and up through the ceiling.

In a video produced by The Buffalo News, Shasti explains her vision of Buffalo’s structural architecture, that the streets and buildings and gateways are akin to a body’s system of cells, veins and organs. She says:

“Gut Flora refers to the recent scientific determination that beneficial bacteria are essential to good health, and should be cultivated and encouraged, much like a garden. If one were to consider the tunnels, concourses and stations of the City of Buffalo’s public transportation system as analogous to the circulatory and digestive systems of the human body, it is essential that these be populated by beneficial bacteria and related biological flora and fauna.”

Her sculpture, which was produced with Rigidized Metals in Buffalo, asks questions about the role we play in our city. What do we owe our city in return for its shelter? How do you contribute to the greater community, and does the infrastructure support you?

Check out Shasti’s work here and elsewhere throughout town.