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Culture

New York City Salutes a Fecal Microbe That Sickens Millions

What better place for a giant statue of E. coli?
The king of New York: E.coli.
The king of New York: E.coli. Jason Wyche/Public Art Fund

New York City, especially in its more fragrant 1970s incarnation (not to mention the even filthier 1860s), has long grappled with its reputation as a giant cesspool. So perhaps it makes sense that there’s now a giant statue of an E. coli microbe in City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan.

“Earth Potential: E. coli” is based on a 10,000-times magnified electron-microscope image of the fecal bacterium that causes 265,000 infections in the U.S. yearly, with symptoms including cramps and diarrhea. Made from a digital print on cut-out aluminum, it rests in City Hall Park as part of the larger exhibition, “Earth Potential,” by the Estonian artist Katja Novitskova. The show intends to portray “organisms and bodies” that have “significant research value within the scientific community for their potential to advance our understanding of our species and world,” according to the non-profit Public Art Fund. Aside from E. coli, the other pieces in the show include a huge earthworm, a slippery nematode, and a human embryo magnified to resemble a clump of moldy peaches.