TEDxCancún

Sunrise in Cancún

Sunrise in Cancún photo Colleen Flanigan

September 18th, 2015 was the first ever TEDxCancún. It took Mónica Alba and her team 4 years to get the license because there was some doubt at the top that Cancun is a “real city,” not just a Spring Break party destination. It definitely is a developing place deserving of critical thinking and ideas worth spreading. From the cenotes to the sea, to birth, communities, entrepeneurs, tech, there is a lot of growth and desire for intelligent change.

I was honored to be among the speakers (my talk is live now). It gave me such a warm sense of belonging, especially since I had a flicker of a thought about having a TEDxCancún back in 2011 when I was here making the Living Sea Sculpture, now titled, ZOE. How sweet to participate in this amazing event while still awaiting permits to install ZOE into MUSA, the underwater museum (ok, we did get permits on August 21st, yea! but are now awaiting copies of permits..like fractals it goes on). It is nice to be seen for what you are working on even while in process of the process towards the perceived goal – coral refuge in the water with live-stream webcams. This specific project has taught me that growth is not a straight line, and I have had to forgive myself and others for missing deadlines that evaporate like steam.

TEDxCancún was Incredibly well organized, so many super volunteers, workshops for us speakers, celebrations…I was moved to tears at the end by how hearty it all was because of the passion, generosity and commitment of the leaders and dreamers who made it happen. Initially, I went to the first planning meeting with Mélina Soto, Elisa Lopez Garcia, and Mónica Alba. I was excited to gather information from other organizers so they could prepare their speakers and volunteers. Lots of good energy builds up around these events, and you want to dive in. What a happy surprise when they asked me to speak! Grateful to be acknowledged and have the opportunity to tell my story about the “Symbiosis of Corals and Tango.” I tangoed in with Mario Oswaldo of InfecTANGO. Tango dancing was my metaphor for coral restoration, partnerships, and the journey of ZOE as an art and science collaboration. Over the top nervous this time, I wanted to practice and be truly present on stage so that I could enjoy, improvise a bit, and connect with the audience if possible. I had all the support in the world writing my words, rehearsing, and when I got on stage, there was calm and spaciousness inside. I could see all my words coming from the script while still able to think and react without losing track or being blinded by some adrenaline shock of white light. What a dream to feel solid and ease after so much inner struggle.

photo María González

photo María González

I am still in Mexico, here in quiet Puerto Morelos. Have been here with some trips away since late December. We have mineral accretion tank experiments going on since May to bring more of the coral scientists into the process. I love learning about the corals and how the electrolysis works; lots of variables and keeps me engaged with what I am so passionate about while the permit dance has been ongoing for ZOE.

…Something about being in Mexico has made me shy away from blogging. I don’t know why. I have been learning Spanish and wanting to stay in the moment with being here. And there is a lot of heat… yet, none of that explains why I shy. There is no excuse, so back to TEDxCancún! I hope you will visit their site in a month to see the talks.

The sunrise at the top of the page is my view on September 18th thanks to TEDxCancún and Secrets of the Vine. What a HUGE gift to have room service and such care while I was stressing and needing the love. It made all the difference to be well-fed and pampered by the friendly hotel staff. And again, all the TEDx volunteers who treated us speakers with glowing respect and joy, handholding and soothing. I was embraced by their presence. I can’t thank them enough!

IMC exhibit

Respire 1.0 our first prototype

Respire 1.0 our first prototype

From the opening reception of the exhibit, TrashTara: It Starts with an Inhale on November 6th, until the closing reception on December 2nd, the Co-Create residency with James Tunick at THE IMC LAB + GALLERY continued in the backdrop. Unlike conventional gallery spaces, the 6th floor venue is a mixed-use morphing environment for artists and a few other small businesses to share. The Respire prototype and immersive installation truly gained a life of its own as James added interactive audio and visuals of data and living reefs projected onto the wall, ceiling, and kinetic sculpture.

Fellow artist-in-residence, Dan Baker’s, hanging art pieces made of retrieved plastic from local waterways were synced with data streams from an Alaskan tidal buoy in preparation for his upcoming exhibit, Ebb and Flow. A monitor showing the tides looked like an EKG. Though conceived separately, they added naturally to the concept and sensory media exploration. I brought over a small mineral accretion experiment I was working on at NYU in Natalie Jeremijenko’s XClinic to directly link coral health and innovation elements visually and physically to participants.

5 Gallon mineral accretion tank at IMC

Motion tracking was triggering the inhales and exhales of the Respire sculpture. The  electricity to the biorock mineral accretion tank was on the same outlet, so anyone moving in the space activated or deactivated the electricity; it was like watching life support go on and off. When the sculpture was idle, black and white images from iron lung artificial respiration projected onto the sculpture representing the bleached state of coral and the need for human action to restore vitality and prevent increased mortality. James and I will continue R&D to evolve the project, tying interactivity and effects more intimately with climate change, coral restoration and life support, and interdependent interspecies health.

And what about TrashTara? I had proposed to produce video and photos from my excursions to receive an LMCC grant. My first experience editing with final cut pro, it was a sweet feeling to observe the raw results, far from pro but close to my heart. Colby Cannon, Rob Bregman, and Dan Baker all gave me some quick tutorials. I grabbed poignant GoPro clips from my street outings together with some footage of me collecting butts day and night. Watching my selected snips of documentation linked together randomly led to a meaningful string of spontaneous interactions I had with people throughout Manhattan. I knew people would be receptive to cigarette butt recycling and pollution conversations if they were first uplifted by someone in a costume embodying a compassionate artwork. The face to face experience and kind moments were proof that impressions and attitude, perceptions and expectations are always operating consciously and subconsciously. Everything about the experience was socially enlightening for me and others, and hardly anyone I met knew that they could recycle butts in New Jersey at TerraCycle.

From EVGrieve blog post by Andrew (no last name)

TrashTara’s Butt Brigade Poster made in collaboration with Colby Cannon

The photo I used is from Scotland a few years ago when I was intrigued with arty butt shots before I was thinking about how that tiny remnant could harm marine life. NOTE:  I WANT $1 (or more!) to go towards coral restoration, but it is an ideal not yet real. Something to work towards.

we have moved next door!

Heading to Cancun Thursday. Time to mark the spot for ZOE’s ocean home at Nizuc Resort and Spa. Here’s one visitor’s view.

From DNA-Dividing at Club Med to ZOE at Nizuc Resort and Spa, transformation is on.  To get you up to speed – see the Living Sea Sculpture cover photo above? That is ZOE awaiting installation in Punta Nizuc from 2011. We were going to install off the beach of Club Med. Since Nizuc Resort and Spa only opened in 2013, they were not an option back in 2011. Timing!!

Roberto Diaz of both MUSA and Aquaworld (he’s a major doer) has been making things happen, and the government is being towed along with approving grace.  Cheers to Roberto!

And big thanks to María Antonia Gonzáles Valeria who I met here in NY at a Genspace event. She went back to Mexico City to see how she could help through her university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).  She introduced me to a recent marine biology graduate focusing on corals in Pueto Morelos, Serguei Rico, who is ready to meet and see how we can work to appropriately appropriate enough coral transplants for installation with his department.  This is a big deal in Mexico – making sure we have the approvals since it is in a National Park protected area; corals are only available for projects after hurricanes, damage by boats, and through lab propagation.  I look forward to working with Serguei and Jaime, Director of the Marine Park, to ensure ZOE becomes a Living Sea Sculpture with endangered corals colonizing.

Steps!! More soon!

Electrifying a Reef

Part 2:  With Biorock mineral accretion, what happens chemically during electrolysis? That’s the question I want to answer, but first, I’m attuned to the seasonal moment.  If you’re in the tropics, you aren’t feeling the darkness of the winter solstice we experience in the upper latitudes.  Up here we celebrate snow and cold, the warming from wool, hot food, and hopefully good insulation.

Electrifying a reef

Dec 19, 2009 Jokimaa, Southern Finland - Courtesy Seppo Ranta. copyright 2009

The beautiful “frost flowers,” as Jeff Bowman refers to them in Robert Krulwich’s NPR piece, are home to millions of bacteria.  These freezing super salty forms remind me of Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!  You can’t see all the microscopic life, but it IS there.

“No one believes Horton. They think he’s crazy.”

Aggregations of shimmering crystals like these are eye candy.  They conjure up an image of flocked corals.  Not bleached corals, I’m happy to say; something about them is festive and fantastical.  Since they may be a result of warming poles, their beauty is likely a paradox, yet for now, they appear as winter wonderland mysteries.  They are a biological chemical feat.

salty ocean blossoms

photo by Matthias Weitz/ "Suddenly There's a Meadow in the Ocean with Flowers Everywhere"

Which brings me back to the question: What is the chemistry behind the electrolytic process for Biorock mineral accretion?  Now that the power is on, what happens in the seawater?

bit-o-biorock jewelry

Bit-o-Biorock pendants in process. Photo by Clay Connally, 2012

According to a research paper by Wolf Hilbertz and Thomas J. Goreau1, deposition of minerals results from alkaline conditions created at the cathode – negatively charged steel sculpture, in our case – by the reduction reaction: 

2H2O+2e =H2 +2OH                                                                                                        2 water molecules + 2 electrons = 1 hydrogen + 2 hydroxide molecules

which precipitates calcium and magnesium minerals from seawater: A basic natural limestone substrate that continues to “grow” and “heal” if damaged while also preventing rust/corrosion of the metal.

OH + HCO3 + Ca++ = CaCO3 + H2O                                                                  hydroxide + hydrogen carbonate (bicarbonate ion) + calcium = calcium carbonate + water

2OH + Mg++ = Mg(OH)2                                                                                                    2 hydroxide molecules +  magnesium (3rd most abundant mineral in seawater) = brucite (mineral form of magnesium hydroxide: not a very stable mineral for accretion)

In contrast, the anode becomes acidic due to:
2H2O = 4H+ + O2 + 4e                                                                                                        2 water molecules = 4 protons + oxygen + 4 electrons

and highly oxidizing conditions result in:
2Cl = Cl2 + 2e                                                                                                                  2 ionic chlorides/organic chlorides= elemental chlorine + 2 electrons

The sum of the net reactions at both electrodes (the {+} charged titanium mesh anode and the {-} charged steel cathode) should be neutral with regard to hydrogen ion production, and hence with regard to CO2 generation through acid–base equilibrium and carbonic acid hydrolysis:

2HCO3 = CO3−− + CO2 + H2O                                                                                           2 hydrogen carbonates = carbonate + carbon dioxide + water

Samuel Raj

"Flame" by Samuel Raj. CC flickr

As a metalsmith, I learned over the years what a reducing flame, oxidizing flame, and neutral flame do to metal.  Equations were not a critical part of learning this, though; it was through hands-on experience that I saw what happened from varying flames. But for the curious and chemistry buffs, I hope this shines light for you.  I’m still learning what the equations mean through my experiments in tanks and the ocean.  Without my “mistakes” of plating stainless steel with iron, and accidentally creating rust baths as I try to grow pendants, I would not be able to grasp these principles.

Kochi at Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan

And without incredible plants like these in Japan, Dr. Seuss might not have drawn endless fields of clover for Horton to roam, seeking to find…

Photo from Alice’s blog at Extraordinary Travel Destinations Off the Beaten Path

1Thomas J. Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz, 2012. Reef Restoration Using Seawater Electrolysis in Jamaica; Innovative Methods of Marine Ecosystem Restoration 4:  36-37.