Bio-Art

I was invited to Genspace the other night to listen to a lecture by Ingeborg Reichle, Art Historian, and Pinar Yoldas, Artist-Researcher, although at one point she said, “I am just an artist,” during the Q&A when the focus had turned to activism to end plastic pollution and policy discussions.  I felt her frustration, or it was my frustration, about someone saying that her work was “whimsical,” and therefore a less impacting or meaningful way to address our current situation in the toxic plastisphere nurdle soup that Captain Charles Moore and others have been revealing since the late 90’s.

With so much plastic in the ocean that “there is more plastic than plankton,” Pinar has been designing an Ecosystem of Excess complete with all kinds of imaginary organisms that feed on plastics.  I asked if she intends to work with geneticists to realize her creatures, and she said she’s interested…it’s a complicated reality and I don’t think she or any of us take the plastic situation lightly . There are researchers and actual microorganisms already evolving along with the progression of enormous masses of synthetic waste in the ocean.  With so many shapes and sizes of plastic host bodies everywhere, how can life not take advantage of this opportunity to mutate and migrate?

My take away is that so many of us creative beings are being asked to get stuck telling people to change, as if activism has only one face: telling people a problem and what to do about it. But what is static about life and innovation? We need to allow for paradigms to shift and hope that fearful feelings of insecurity about the future lead to breakthroughs.  There are many ways to shift perspective and expand the conversation while maintaining grounded in the confusing possibilities of every day.  Listening to your own visions and inner voice in this time of rapid climate change is crucial.  How else can we bust out of traps of collective blindness and work through the denial and guilt to get to new discoveries?  Pinar was not highly positive about the situation; she is an activist shining light on a serious issue, but she is doing it in a way that brings beauty and horror together through artistic, visionary skill. Making the work is therapeutic for Pinar. Watching our oceans become wastelands is too tragic to handle without an outlet.

Recently I asked for more water in my plastic cup on an airline.  The flight attendant took my cup and said, “I’ll get you a new one,” as if she was doing me a favor when I wanted to use my perfectly good plastic cup. Since airlines are such huge carbon polluters, it seems like such an easy thing to have people reuse their cups.  At coffee shops, why not bring in your own cup and get rewarded with a discount?  All of this policy rule stuff has no appeal for me, though, as a career.  It drives me nuts, so I need to do something else with my fantasy for a healthy world.

I don’t like getting stuck in feeling guilty and overwhelmed. It’s too righteous and blocks the flow of imagination to keep learning and bringing new ideas and solutions into form so that more and more people can choose how to build the now that will become the future.

A man in the audience asked if Pinar could build a huge plastic reef with 3D printed corals that could survive climate change.  I couldn’t help it, I plunked my sample chunk of Biorock from a project in the ocean onto the chair by him.

Biorock® sample cross-section taken from an underwater sculpture in Bali © 2004

Later we talked a bit about how there is already one process with electrified steel reefs that intentionally addresses the environmental stresses threatening corals. While talking to Ingeborg about plastic pollution and oceans, she introduced me to two professors from the National University of Mexico, Mexico City.  They offered to look into locations and partners for art and science coral restoration projects in Mexico.  The evening had many layers of organisms interacting, from science fiction microbes to modern day humans doing what all life does, connect and spread ourselves into the world through thoughts, words, and actions.

Today I’m in the middle of my second day as a co-create resident artist at IMC Lab + Gallery.  I’ll be working on alter ego TrashTara – Compassionate Deity of the Dregs culminating in a photo/video show resulting from interacting with the public on the streets thanks to a grant from LMCC, and Respire: The Coral Corollary, a multi-sensory interactive installation correlating human health with coral health through the context of artificial respiration and life support.  Genspace will be helping me with some fluorescing dead bacteria for TrashTara’s headdress to avoid using plastic resin as a translucent material in exchange for the latest in bio-arts. Plastics, with their consumer model of planned obsolescence, were once considered the best thing ever, and people got out of control with that. I really have mixed feelings about genetic engineering, but for this small-scale project, I will see what I learn and keep sifting through all the difficult choices.

 

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