What did you create?
Cyanovisions has been shown as a hybrid bioart and video installation that includes live cyanobacteria cultures growing in photobioreactors next to a short film on loop. An immersive photobioreactor made of 1000 feet of tubing housed the growth of Spirulina and was shown in a larger installation, and became a living set design in the creation of the short film for Cyanovisions. I created a series of bioplastics that were colored with spirulina pigment and phycocyanin and were shown in exhibitions and worn as speculative prostheses used as costume in the film. The 14-minute short film (co-directed with Jody Stillwater) begins with footage of the recent devastation from the forest fires in Northern California juxtaposed with aerial footage of algal blooms. In the visual narrative, a biohacker/scientist collects field samples from local algae blooms in the region, which are taken back to experiment on in a DIY Biology Lab. Science fact becomes science fiction as lab technicians move from routine experiments into an embodied ritual. Following this, speculative mutualisms are revealed showing humans living in symbiosis with cyanobacteria in different scenarios both peaceful, disturbing, and surreal.
Why did you make it?
We are living in precarious times, during an environmental crisis on the planet. Cyanobacteria blooms in lakes, rivers, estuaries and coasts are one of the signs that we are living out of balance with nature, and human pollution is the main cause of these proliferations of blue-green algae. When I first discovered that cyanobacteria were also the first organisms to photosynthesize on the planet, creating the atmosphere that we breathe today, I realized there is a long-standing and complex entanglement between humans, all life on the planet, and cyanobacteria. I wanted to explore this in a body of work and a visual narrative, with an ecological focus that highlights our role in affecting the environment into light. This piece hopes to shift perspectives where humans are separate from nature to a space where humans can become more conscious and symbiotic and with the environments they affect and inhabit.
How did you make it?
My initial research of cyanobacteria blooms grew out of an artist fellowship I did in Kyiv, Ukraine looking at algal blooms in the Dnipro river that dramatically affect the water quality there. With collaborators Krolikowski Art duo, we developed a photo series that positioned me as a scientist next to the river, siphoning off algae for biofuel and doing experiments in bioremediation in an outdoor laboratory. The photo series transformed into a time-based media and multimedia project. I ordered 5 different cyanobacteria cultures and grew them in my studio in Oakland, documenting their growth and the beauty of the bio-films they create. I started creating bioplastics colored by spirulina and phycocyanin, positioning them on my body to imagine new skins. With the help of architect Dasha Ortenberg, I created a large immersive photobioreactor system that circulated and grew Spirulina – that could potentially be harvested for food. All the elements of Cyanovisions were folded together like strands of DNA into a short film, co-directed by Jody Stillwater. We sculpted a beautiful visual narrative of 7 scenes in 6 different locations including real landscapes affected by climate change and a community biology laboratory.
Your entry’s specification
Cyanovisions is shown as a one-channel video installation with small photobioreactor systems of nontoxic cyanobacteria growing next to it, and bioplastics. It needs a projector or TV Monitor (40” or larger if possible), speakers or headphones for the audio, a media player or HDMI cables, a pedestal for flasks or table for the photobioreactors (approximately 24” x 24” x 36” or larger) and another space to display bioplastics. I can provide glass sculptures/photobioreactor/containment systems, small tubing and pumps for aeration, bioplastic samples using agar, gelatin, or chitosan and colored by cyanobacteria, and a video file (on USB or sent digitally). Non-toxic cyanobacteria cultures can be sourced locally or shipped to the exhibition space.