No. 3

Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths

By : baumleahy

Entrant’s location : Denmark and United Kingdom


What did you create?

Microbiocene is a conceptual framework – a speculative epoch, bringing to light the ancient, ongoing, and future age of microbes. This era is expressed and materialised through the installation Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths, which depicts a future archaeological site, where a monument is inscribed with myths of microbiological pasts. This scenario presents a point in time where an imagined future civilisation has shifted into the mindset and materiality of microbial deep time. The tales inscribed are based on the lived conditions of microorganisms dating back as far as 10,000 years ago. Extracting molecules from microbe fossils in samples of ancient sea sediment, we uncovered information about past environmental conditions in both the North and Black Seas. Combining these relics of Earth’s history with projected future scenarios, a (re)telling emerges of history and future on Earth as microbe-centric. These myths are written in microglyphs, a collaboratively created symbol system, playfully evolving textual language into an ecology of signs.

Why did you make it?

Microbiocene responds to the need for alternative narratives to the Anthropocene. It’s important that art and design explore the potentials of different future ‘cenes’- and that it’s also urgently important to reflect on our current human-centred systems in these times of environmental crisis. Whilst creating Microbiocene we were thinking about the magnitude of microbial histories that has come before us, and how this has had slow yet defining atmospheric and evolutionary impacts on the Earth, setting out the conditions for life to thrive. In contrast, humankind’s time on Earth is becoming defined by rapid global changes, currently setting out trajectories for unsustainable and exclusive futures. Using the scale afforded by XL 3D printing to create an immersive environment, Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths situates the viewer within a speculative scenario. Presented with this vision of a far-future world, a new language, and a shifted society, the visitor is invited to imagine the emergence of new systems of adaptation and cohabitation. As a conceptual framework, Microbiocene becomes a tool for carving out different futures, and considering humankind’s legacy on Earth.

How did you make it?

Microbiocene: Ancient ooze to future myths was produced using XL 3D printing, laboratory procedures and a series of microglyph and future scenario workshops with biogeochemists. The sculpture was modelled in Sketchup, and prepared for 3D printing using CURA. It was 3D-printed using an ABB robotic arm scripted with RAPID code. The material used to 3D print includes the sea sediment was examined in collaboration with biogeochemists from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. This analysis involved using a freeze dryer to prepare them for extraction using an ASE (accelerator solvent extractor). The resulting liquid was filtered using column chromatography to separate the lipids held within it. The particular lipids we were searching for were the alkenones, which were dried, in order to be measured on the gas chromatograph with flame detection (GC-FID). Using the Agilent ChemStation software, the alkenone were quantified and their ratio was calculated, revealing to us factors such as temperature, which were used to construct past climate scenarios. The microglyph language and the future myths were developed throughout workshops with artists and biogeochemists. The glyphs were then recreated in Illustrator, animated in AfterEffects, and projection mapped onto 3D wall mountings with Madmapper.

Your entry’s specification

3D-printed sculpture containing ancient sea sediment (Height: 2,7m, Width: 2m, Depth: 2m), sand, and wall mounted, projection mapped microglyphs (Height: 4m, Width: 6m).