Kiss Culture

by Maria Phelan

Kiss Culture is a project that was developed and produced for the first major biomedical exhibition called INFECTIOUS at Science Gallery Dublin in 2009, with the gallery becoming host to a growing grid of kissed blood agar plates.

Visitors to the exhibition contributed their kisses and each plate was then incubated for 48 hours at 37C (body temperature) to facilitate the growth of the natural flora (primarily staphylococci and streptococci) which everyone carries on their lips. The cultured plates were placed into a large grid along the wall of the gallery, back illuminated to display the multitude of bacteria inhabiting our mouths and the shape of each individual lip imprint, sometimes including the nose, chin or even bacterial initials created by tongues licked onto the agar! Participants could return to the gallery to see their kiss and ask questions about their own individual bacteria.

Over 2000 kisses were cultured and displayed, combining the rigor of scientific protocol with a creative visual and educationally interactive work, throughout the three months of INFECTIOUS. Each ‘Kiss Culture’ plate was documented photographically, and on request, personalized ‘Kiss Coasters’ created for participants from all over the globe, so continuing to spread the concept by word of mouth and indeed by image of mouth!

The images projected at the MOUTHY launch event were a small selection of some of those kisses recorded and they remain as the legacy of Kiss Culture.


Maria Phelan is a scientific researcher and communicator, artist and biomedical scientist who worked with Science Gallery Dublin from its opening in 2008 and has been involved in research and development, production and co-ordination, documentation and evaluation of many of its exhibitions, facilitating over 2 million visitors and helping to deliver over 25,000 interactive real research experiments. Maria’s interests are in the understanding of scientific concepts through innovation and creativity within education and exhibition programs and large scale public engagement, acting as consultant and curator with art science collaborations and projects within and beyond Science Gallery.

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