Project done in collaboration with Sachiko Hirosue and her colleague Robin Scheibler from Design for the Real World (BDRW) www.biodesign.cc, a project hosted at Hackuarium biohackerspace. The DIY fluorimeter it is the BDRW v4 version. Their algorithm was adapted by Michael Pereira to turn it into a technological narrative tool.
Environmental changes are often invisible. Some are trapped in complex reports while others are materialized below the radar of our cognition. Therefore, we need to propose new tools in order to tell more inclusive stories about our alienated ecosystems. “Camera Obscura & the Artefacts of the Invisible” uses genetically modified bacteria to display a microbe's perception of the world.
The blackboxed dialogue refers to the specific case study involving a "secret dossier" related to the massive mercury spill carried out by Lonza; a company based in Visp, Switzerland. This company is involved in chemical industry, aluminum production, and in biotechnology. I spotted Visp and its neighboring villages, after the scandal of the environmental crime in 2015. In the beginning of the 21st century, the now global industrial giant Lonza Group AG had executed a spill on the Rhône river and the Grossgrundkanal of more than 50 tones of mercury between 1930 to 1970. Due to the neglected management of the toxic waste, about a hundred plots of residential areas were affected to varying degrees. Moreover, according to a recent discovery in 2018, at least 250 workers were confirmed to had been seriously poisoned. But this numbers could be far below the real ratio.
In this context, the “augmented” E. Coli is equipped with genetical make up that triggers the eGFP fluorescent protein in presence of heavy metals, in this case mercury. The nonhuman act as our extended senses while enhancing the agency of the toxic matter.
Moreover, by shifting the narrators, we discharge a shirking society to better confront the ecological shift, mourn the loss and seek for alternative futures. The more people come to see whats inside the Camera Obscura, the more visible it becomes the traces and anxieties of progress in the Rhône Valley.Technical info regarding: Values, Data and Hardware Development by Biodesign for the Real World here
My technical contribution has been to modify the algorithm to connect a driver system which commands 5 stepper motors that would actuate the 5 peristaltic pumps. This pumps translate the scientific data out of the optical measurements into bits of black drops. Those data drops travel through a tentacular network of silicone tubes that display fluctuations in toxicity along the Industrial past of the polluted region within the pristine glass reservoir.
(*) I find the term Anthropocene problematic ( from anthropo- and -cene, coined by Paul Crutzen (born 1933), Nobel-winning Dutch chemist ) in the way that it does not target the specific group of people, humans or humanlike beings, that are responsible for the majority of irreversible changes on Earth. There are other terms like: Anthroposcene (Just Parikka, 2013), Chutlucene (Donna Haraway, 2016), Capitalocene (Jason Moore, 2013) that might be more accurate in this context of environmental damage due to industrial and economic activity.