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Blaptica/Homo 1, Phases 1-2
Phase 1: A space dividing system separated humans and nonhumans in a gallery setting. Hollow sphenoid hendecahedrons made of sugar glass contained living roaches. Sphenoid hendecahedrons were chosen for their ability to stack infinitely, with no gaps. As a total space-filler, the forms act as an impenetrable object for humans. However, the scale allows the same forms to act as spaces for roaches. As the roaches chewed through the walls of their containers (both temporary boundary and food source), they entered the adjacent geometric space. Once the roaches chewed through the outermost boundary, the form no longer separates.
Phase 2: The roach sugar consumption proved to be too slow for the thickness of the sugar walls. To aid in the form shifting, the stacked cells were relocated to an outdoor (eco) system. The dry, cool gallery was replaced with a damp forested area, rich with bacteria and other living organisms. As the roaches worked from the inside-out, the new system components worked from the outside-in. In only a few days, the forms shifted, no longer distinguishing an interior from an exterior.
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Bacterium/Homo 1, Phase 1
Nutrient agar, a bacterial culturing medium, saturated twenty-four foot panels of fiberglass. I collected soil samples and swabbed them on the surface of the panels. The bacteria grew for one week, shifting from microscopic to dense bacterial and fungal growth covering the entire surface. The panels were then dehydrated and used as architectural elements, creating an eight-foot tall curved corridor.
Bacterium/Homo 1, Phase 1 is a scale-shifting, double-inversion device. It shifts the micro-sclae to the visible-scale by providing nutrients and an ideal bacterial environment. By using samples from the soil, it inverts the ground into an architectural space. As humans move through the bacterial corridor, they too are theoretically inverted-- many types of bacteria found in the soil also exist in human gut flora. The strong odor of the gases released by the bacteria fills the entire gallery, resulting in a shared (human and nonhuman) air experience.
Pogonomyrmex/Homo 1-4, Phases 2-3
An emergent, feedback-powered interspecies construction: Harvester Ants were placed in a single container made in the fashion of a traditional ant farm-- sand between two panes of glass. As the ants displaced and tunneled through the sand, patterns revealed themselves. I set a simple rule for co-laboring to create the constructions: ant observation -> translation from ant scale to human scale, from ant materials to human materials -> construction via mimicry of their patterns, movements and pace. As ant tunnels met the walls of the containers, I drilled into that point and attached vinyl tubing, replacing their boundary with a new pathway. As the interspecies creation continued, staged of progression became clear:
Stage 1. Vinyl tubes filled the airspace, crossing through the room, connecting all walls. As the density of the ant tubes increased (as the ant tunnels increased), human accessibility decreased.
Stage 2. A building inspection caused the fire marshal to check the boiler room, entering the feedback loop. The inspector insisted that I remove the project to restore access to the valves on the far wall. In response to this new rule, I built a bridge around the preexisting ant tubes to allow humans to more easily access the space. The bridge had railings, providing an interior pathway for the viewer to access the back wall-- similar to how ants moved through the interior of their tubes.
Stage 3. Upon a follow-up inspection, the fire marshal deemed the bridge unsatisfactory: the path was too narrow and stairs were not allowed. In response, I removed the bridge and built a low platform, setting the tubes into grooves cut into the platform slats.
Stage 4. Following my rule of mimicry, as the ants broke through their boundaries, I broke through the human boundary-- the walls of the room. The ant tubing was brought up through the ceiling space and dropped down into adjacent rooms.
Stage 5. As the final batches of ants died off, the tunneling patterns in the containers were recorded via a plaster-casting process, inverting the pathways. The plaster objects are then repurposed as guides for future systems.
Pogonomyrmex/Homo 7, Phases 5
How can multiple species share an experience?
Harvester Ants and humans are the two species in relation. This work focuses on a particular stimulus that both species are able to perceive: sound. While humans hear sound through their ears via sound waves moving air, ants hear through subgenual organs in their legs. Vibrations travel through material where they are picked up by the feet and then translated to hearing.
Gravel fills the floor of a small, grey room. Microphones are embedded in the gravel, picking up sound from humans walking through the space. The sound is sent to a preamp and then to a simple computer where the level of noise is translated to vibration motors on the underside of a glass panel (the louder the sound, the more vibration motors are activated). Ants are contained on top of the glass panel, moving through a glass microsphere substrate. Condenser microphones pick up minute sounds of the ant movements and amplify them to human audibility. The ants hear our movement via vibration on their floor panel, and humans hear ant sounds through speakers in the airspace. Both species are hearing each other, but in their respective modes of perception. Both are observed and observing.
The shared-environment becomes a new space, adapting the sound experience to the needs of both participating species.
Bacterium/Homo 2-18, Phase 2
Upon my arrival in New Zealand, after stating on my customs card that I had recently been in a forest, my shoes were taken from my suitcase and cleaned by airport personnel. This direct connection-- shoes as a receptacle for the transfer of potentially harmful matter-- along with my personal state of temporary displacement set the concept and the duration of the piece.
Each day I mapped where in the country I had traveled, and I swabbed a bacterial sample from the soles of my shoes. These samples were brought back to the studio and cultured on square sheets of clear acrylic, coated with a nutrient agar medium. The microscopic bacteria began to colonize, becoming visible to the unaided eye. Within days the panels were covered with patterns and colors of different types of bacteria.
The living panels were installed at Whitecliffe College, hung overhead on a suspended grid. I placed the panels on the grid in relation to their distance and orientation from the school (the site of the installation) marked in the room as an "x" on the floor. The amount of growth determined the chronology of my time in New Zealand: the denser the growth, the earlier the visit, where as little growth marked a very recent destination. Spotlights above each panel cast shadows of the bacterial growth down onto the floor and onto the audience. The shadows touched the viewers in a non-tangible way-- similar to how microorganisms exist on our bodies.
Homo[+]/Homo 1, Phase 1
A gallery-based systems study, focusing on both the systems that humans function within and the systems that function within the human. There are two main sections to the piece: a skin microbiome growth table with camera observation devices, and an internal microbiome reflector.
The internal microbiome reflector is participatory by choice. Sterile saliva test strips are provided to reveal the internal pH levels of participants (pH levels indicate what types of microbiomes our bodies can sustain). Each result is recorded on a slip of paper and deposited in a collection jar. At the end of each day, the data is collected and converted into a glowing orb lit by three led lights. Each pH result has a different combination of leds. The orbs are then added to the wall and powered by battery—a chemical to electric energy shift, representational of how human body chemical levels affect neurons and brain activity. As new orbs are added to the dim corner, the ambient light shifts: the reflection of the internal conditions of the viewers who enter the space.
The skin microbiome incubation table is a glass, rectangular table (5´5˝ length—my height) filled with nutrient agar and wooden separation bars that distinguish body from arms from legs, etc. Samples from my own body are swabbed in corresponding sections of the table. The bacterial and fungal growth is visible to the unaided eye but can be more closely studied with a microscopic camera device. Viewers can move the camera to any location of the table, and the image is projected onto a screen behind a wall. The wall blocks the projection from the person moving the camera—multiple viewers must function together to both move the camera and see the result. Since the bacterial growth and movement is recorded, the movements of humans in the space are also recorded.
While participatory elements provide the viewer with the option to partake or not, the continuous recording of the space reminds the viewer that observation is never passive.
Pogonomyrmex/Homo 8, Phase 6