I just completed my residency in “Interdisciplinary Practices in Bio-Art” at the School of Visual Arts. Their brand new Nature and Technology Lab is still growing and evolving, but already has lots of great tools, and attracted an excellent community of artists the first time around. Below is a survey of the work I completed while in residence. Much of it is still in the prototype and/or draft phase, but I’ve got some good momentum going and a few chunks of free time before my teaching schedule ramps up in late August.
Bio-sorption, Remediation, and Displacement:
I worked in the metal shop a few days a week during the residency, building a series of welded steel Purification Racks for my Bio-sorption Displacement Experiments. These are sculptural structures designed to hold a variety of vertically stacked found and modified plastic bottles.
The top-most vessel accepts a solution of polluted water gathered in the field combined with a powder of a bio-sorptive medicinal plant (below, Senna Leaf, or Cassia auriculata). This solution rests for up to five hours before being drained, via valves, funnels and gravity, through a series of filters.
The resulting liquid collected at the bottom of each structure has theoretically passed off a portion of the heavy metals and phosphates common in industrial and agricultural waste waters to the bio-sorptive plant matter (see M. Divya Jyothi, K. Rohini Kiran and K. Ravindhranath, Phosphate pollution control in waste waters using new bio-sorbents).
The water may be cleaner, but the process is one of displacement, not alchemy. The toxins remain, but they are bound up in plant matter rather than water. Laboratory tests for phosphates and heavy metals will be required to determine the actual effects of this process as I am executing it, but in the meantime I am interested in the metaphorical implications of transference versus transformation in the context of bioremediation.
Invasive Plants and Fugitive Pigments
I also continued work on my Invasive Pigment Project, building a rack to hold my algae bioreactors. I’m on the hunt for more didymo, aka “rock snot” to culture in them. Preliminary didymo portrait below.
The pigments I’ve been creating are likely to be highly fugitive (fade with exposure to UV light), so I plan to display the portraits in wall-mounted archival specimen boxes. Viewers will be invited to flip a switch to illuminate each portrait individually. I’m interested in the contrast between the hardy, “noxious” qualities of highly successful invasive plants and the fragility of the portraits I’m creating.
Microscopy and Plastic Pollution:
Finally, I spent a good deal of time exploring the NAT Lab’s microscopes, which included a dissecting scope for larger specimens, a compound scope with four objectives ranging from 4x to 100x, and an inverted scope for viewing specimens from below. The views through these microscopes were thrilling, and compounded by the fact that each could be adapted to support a digital SLR camera. The following video, still in process, working title Phytoplastic, was created using the inverted scope at 10x magnification. It follows the degradation of a microscopic phytoplankton habitat through the addition of common household products. A teaspoon of plastic particles, a single drop of bleach, a dot of dish soap, and a sprinkling of potting soil transform an ecosystem over a period of minutes. Click below to watch on vimeo.
Sound design is still in the works, so it’s best watched with the volume on mute, for now. Now with sound, mostly gathered along the Hudson River: