Biolesce is a series of iterative installations and sculptures featuring the expressive potential of bioluminescent algae. Pyrocystis fusiformis is a single-celled, non-motile, ocean-dwelling dinoflagellate that expresses a flash of blue light when physically agitated. In the artworks comprising Biolesce I physically agitate the algae through relatively simple technological arrangements of motors, servos, and pumps for a human audience. Many of the installations are interactive, using a biosensor (like a heartbeat sensor) for the human interactants. This way, the embodied, autonomic processes of the human interactant (heartbeat) trigger physical pulses in the water the algae lives in, which results in bioluminescent response—also an embodied, autonomic process of the algae. A visitor to the installation can see blue light exhibited through living plant life pulsing in time to their own heartbeat.
The goal here is to create a shared experience between human and algae, one that is mediated and enabled via technology. It is my belief that the biosensors allow for an intimate connection to the algae even without touch on the part of the human. Technology enables new forms of mediated experience, but one that is in many ways 'natural.' Throughout this project, I ask how technology can be a mode of creative engagement with physico-biological phenomena?
It is important to consider the experiential side of this project beyond the human interactant, or audience, and to promote the idea that the algae too are experiencing bodies in the artwork. I promise you, this idea of experience begins with a sound philosophical concept from Alfred North Whitehead, who essentially claims that without experience there is nothing, and opens up the concept of experience to all things in the universe, like algae, or rocks. It is not a conscious experience, but even a rock experiences the gravitational pull of the earth. Throughout my work on this series, the goal of creating shared interactions between humans and algae and is central. Shared experience can, I think, open up important avenues of exploration, especially in times of environmental crisis.
Along with Whitehead, my work is very much influenced by Gilbert Simondon. Simondon was a philosopher of individuation, that is the processes by which things come to be. He argued strongly that Western philosophy had gotten a few things wrong, one of which is an over-emphasis on individuals, beings already formed in the universe. Simondon argued that to really understand the world it would be better to consider how individuals formed, and pointed out that along with individuals their milieu, or their environment, emerge from the processes of individuation also. Thus, as individuals, we are always embedded in a dynamic, emergent milieu. He also wrote about technology and claimed that technology is a mediator between humans and nature. Technology is a creative, productive force in the world, one which is sparked by humans, but not entirely in our control. Technology extends humans into the world, it is in excess of us and has physical impacts upon the world.
These are just a few of the ideas that sparked this project. Check out the gallery for an idea of what the various projects look like.
In addition to making work on my own, I have successfully delivered a few workshops. While the workshops were originally secondary to the work, I have found that they are key to fully exploring Simondon's ideas, especially to the concept of technical mentality—that is, fully subsuming technology, and an understanding of its underlying functions, into culture. Whether or not this is truly possible with the rapid growth of technologies, proprietary formats, and a predominant focus on users and not the operational aspect of the technology is difficult to say. It is possible, however, to convey how the artworks operate, and to do so through hands-on interaction. In this way, the workshops have become an important part of my ability to explain and show what I am trying to achieve through this project. Here is an example of a workshop handout: Biolesce Workshop ISEA 2012.