The quality of groundwater is heavily affected by modern life: industrial discharges, urban activities, waste disposal and other human activities contaminate drinking and irrigation water with undesirable pollutants.
Looking for innovative ways to supply agricultural fields with clean water, artist Rihards Vitols is currently experimenting with a new type of agronomy that relies on "cloud-farming". In his scenario, farmers will raise thousands of helium balloons above their land to collect water from the cloud. Demonstration in the video below:
akA is part of the Transformative Ecologies exhibition which will open this week at the Maison du Design gallery in Mons, Belgium. The show features the result of the "techno-ecological" researches initiated by Latvian and Belgian artists who are exploring sustainable food and energy futures.
Right before the show opens, i caught up with the Vitols to get more details about his first prototypes and experiments:
Hi Rihards! How did you get the idea for the project?
In the beginning the project was about clouds. I wanted to collect and archive data from clouds over my great-grandparents land, which I did using weather balloons and attaching humidity and temperature sensors to them. After a while I started to notice that balloons are slowly losing height. I took one of them down to check if there was a leak. But instead I noticed that small water drops are all over the balloon surface. Then the winter came and I had some time to think about how I could work with this process. During the Autumn a lot of people around me were talking about the future of water and then the idea about akA and Cloud Farming came into my head.
I was surprised at how low-tech the mechanism was. It looks so simple. But are there tricks and secrets to ensure that the system works as efficiently as possible? Or challenges you had to overcome while developing the project?
It is simple. But it is not fast. You need to wait while the water lands on the balloon and it can take some time. One of the challenges is the wind. If it's windy it's harder to get it up in the sky. Wind is just blowing it away diagonally. The second challenge is to launch multiple balloons in one field. I am still thinking about methods so that they would not get entangled with each other. Water collecting is still in progress and I am looking for the best solution. I used a sponge but obviously it`s not the best way, because some part of the water stays in it. At the moment those are all only ideas and i will be doing some further testing next spring.
Could you walk us through the ideal scenario for akA? it would have to be implemented at large scale with thousands of balloons, right? But what is the process like on a large scale? Would the balloons have to be operative non-stop? Or just be deployed when there is a need for more water? How would a farmer use it exactly?
Farm size depends on the land size. But the ideal would be 1000+ balloons of 3 meters in diameter. All balloons would be lifted at once and connected in a network so they stay in place. Water gathering would need to be automated and at the moment I'm thinking about using a waterproof paper material to create a funnel which then would be attached to the balloon. I'm also considering using a lightweight tube from funnel to farm so that water can safely make its way to the purification station. A daily task of the farmer would be to check if all of the balloons are okay, also to fill the balloons with helium at least once every 2 weeks, fill bottles with water and send them out to shops or private buyers. I would like to automate it so far that all of the work takes only 2-4 days per month. One of best things is that the ground under the balloons can still be used for other things.
Is the water from the clouds really as pure as it should be? Aren't clouds submitted to industrial pollution as well?
During the winter kids are eating snow - during the summer they are running around with their mouth open trying to catch the falling rain, at least in Latvia they do so. No one has gotten sick of it. Of course in a larger amount and in a bigger concentration it may not be so healthy. So all of the water needs to be checked before selling it further.
You have started to collect moist and temperature data about the sky over your land. Could you tell us what you found out?
Data collecting helped me to find the moistest place and time around the property. All data collection was before the water collection and at that moment there was no reason to find out something just to get data. Now I can use this data to show how fertile the sky over my property is for the potential cloud farmers who would like to rent my land for water collecting, if I would choose to stop collecting it by myself.
What's next for the project?
Together with a designer Reinis Nalivaiko I`m building a webpage about the project. All information on the project will be available in the webpage, along with the data about the sky where the water and its analysis are being collected from. The concepts of the water collection systems will be also there along with the documentation from their appliance.
Next spring I want to get the cloud water tested and compare this data with tap water, rain water and borehole water. And then based on these data I would be able to find out what kind of purification system I need for the farm.
With a help of an architect Ivars Veinbergs that would allow me to make an architectural project and maybe in the next 2 years I will be able to create the first Cloud Farm.
Rihards Vitols holds a master's degree in new media art from Liepaja University where he is now teaching. And in a few weeks the artist will start a second masters degree at KHM (Academy of Media Arts Cologne).
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
Today's guests are Evan Roth, Becky Stern, Geraldine Juárez and Magnus Eriksson from the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T. Lab), a network of artists, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and musicians who are committed to supporting open values and the public domain through the use of emerging open licenses, support for open entrepreneurship, and the admonishment of secrecy, copyright monopolies, and patents.
Some of the members were at the MU gallery in Eindhoven last week for a F.A.T. Lab retrospective as well as for the launch of THE F.A.T. MANUAL. In this episode, we will be talking about 3D printed guns, Ideas Worth Spreading which allows you to deliver your own pirate TED talk, open culture and how to remove Justin Bieber from your web browsing.
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 20 November at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
F.A.T. GOLD Europe. Five Years of Free Art & Technology is at MU in EIndhoven until January 26, 2014. THE F.A.T. MANUAL is on print on demand but you can also download it for free.
I entered the cinema wondering how much i'd enjoy a computer animated homage to a genius born exactly 100 years ago and i got out of the screening obsessed with everything Turing. I spent the weeks that followed reading everything i could about the 'father of the computer'.
The short(-ish) film narrates and speculates on the last days of Alan Turing. I knew Turing as the genius who had successfully worked on cracking German ciphers at Bletchley Park during the WWII, as a man who has defined the basics of computer science, and developed the eponymous Turing test, which sets a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".
Turing's name was therefore little more than synonymous with a landmark in the history of computer. I wasn't aware of his personal life so i was shocked to see him portrayed as a broken man about to (maybe?) commit suicide. 2 years before his death, Turing was indeed found guilty of "gross indecency", because of his sexual relationship with another man. Homosexual acts being illegal in the UK at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He opted for hormonal treatment. The conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the British signals intelligence agency.
As the directors write: Our film tells the legendary myth that thinking machines in the future will make about their creator's life; an emotional story about how one of Britain's greatest scientists ended up in a very dark place, because the country which he helped save from fascism, chemically castrated him because he was gay.
This is the background for a film that intertwines Turing's dreams, a therapy session with his psychologist and a couple of intelligent machines looking for their father.
The focus on the session with the German therapist is particularly fascinating. As the film directors explained in the Q&A that followed the screening, Turing arrived in Manchester as an entirely rational and logical man and because his therapist, Dr Franz Greenbaum, was using Jungian psychology and encouraged Turing to write a dream diary, the mathematician was suddenly confronted with the irrational and the unconscious.
The film certainly explores this irrationality, suggesting that after all, being irrational is part of human intelligence.
The Creator is a clever and moving film that not only celebrates the tragic life of a man we owe so much to but also reminds us that Turing is still waiting for an official and posthumous pardon.
Cornerhouse uploaded the video of the Q&A with the film makers. Don't miss it, their passion for Turing is contagious. Bonus! The irresistible accent of one of the artists.
The Creator will be screened again at the Cornerhouse, on Thu 30 Aug, at 15:50 as part of the AND festival.
Abandon Normal Devices (AND), the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art will run from August 29 until September 2.
A post that was left floating in draft limbo since mid July...
This year again the World Press Photo contest, an international competition of photojournalism, comes with its fair share of grim images of wars and crisis at the other end of the word, with pictures that talk about women suffering, immigration and children crying. It reminds us of the Haiti earthquake and of other events that have long ceased to make the headlines of the newspapers. But the contest has also cheerful pictures of women luchadores in Bolivia, high-speed car races between amateurs in Mexico and even sardines if sardines are what you're into. There is also a surprisingly high amount of photo documenting the eruption of volcanoes. All of them far more formidable than the one that got every traveler's attention last year.
A man throws a corpse onto a pile of dead bodies at the morgue of a hospital in Port-au-Prince. In the aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in January, thousands of residents fled the capital Port-au-Prince.
A Haitian family, trying to leave Port-au-Prince, boards a boat in the city harbor.
Entrails and skeletons of dead livestock lie in the Gadabedji reserve in the Maradi region of Niger in western Africa. Meat traders buy up dying livestock, slaughter the animals, cook the meat on the spot and sell it to neighboring Nigeria. (...) Lacking refrigeration facilities to store meat themselves, local cattle-farmers had little option but to sell their dying animals at a fraction of the usual rate and use the money to buy what food they could.
A Cape gannet comes in to land during the summer nesting season. Malgas Island, off the west coast of South Africa, is an important seabird breeding ground.
A man smokes outdoors in Cemoro Lawang, which is the main tourist access point to Mount Bromo and was badly affected by the eruption. Mount Bromo volcano, a popular tourist attraction in East Java, Indonesia, began to show signs of activity in November, with a major eruption on 19 December spewing stones and ash 2,000 meters into the air.
Nguyen Thi Li, aged 9, who lives in the Ngu Hanh Son district of Da Nang in Vietnam, suffers from disabilities believed to be caused by the defoliating chemical Agent Orange. During the Vietnam War, US forces sprayed Agent Orange over forests and farmland in an attempt to deprive Viet Cong guerrillas of cover and food. The dioxin compound used in the defoliant is a long-acting toxin that can be passed down genetically, so it is still having an impact forty years on. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that some 150,000 Vietnamese children are disabled owing to their parents' exposure to the dioxin. Symptoms range from diabetes and heart disease to physical and learning disabilities.
See the film The Leaves Keep Falling.
The head of a man, who was ambushed while driving with his family, lies beside the road on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, in northern Mexico. The city, on the border with the USA, is a smuggling crossroads and a battleground in the drug wars that afflict the region, with thousands killed each year. The man's wife was fatally wounded by gunfire during the attack, and he was forced from the vehicle and abducted, leaving behind his children aged three and four. Police later found his body some 20 kilometers away.
Kirill Lewerski, aged 16, a cadet on the Russian ship Kruzenshtern. The traditionally rigged, four-masted bark was built in 1926, the second largest tall ship still in operation.
A man carries a shark through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in September. The capital had seen some heavy shelling that month, part of the conflict between Islamist militants and pro-government troops. Sharks form a large portion of total Somali fish landings. The fish is not commonly eaten in Somalia, but shark meat is dried and salted for export.
Mount Merapi, in Central Java, Indonesia, erupted in late October, blasting hot rock and volcanic ash a kilometer and a half into the air, in what was said to be its largest eruption since the 1870s. Days after the initial eruption came an even bigger blast, releasing pyroclastic flows - fast-moving currents of gas that can reach 1,000°C - which wiped out surrounding villages, even killing people outside the denoted danger zones.
Bodies of victims of the Merapi eruption lie covered in volcanic ash in a house in the village of Argomulyo.
Lucha libre (Bolivian wrestling) is one of the most popular sports in the country. Women wrestlers are known as cholitas and have in the last ten years become popular in the sport. Here, Carmen Rosa and Yulia la Pacena perform in a benefit show to raise money for the bathrooms of a school in La Paz, Bolivia, 26 June.
Carmen Rosa walks along the street with Julia la Paceña, her best friend in real life, and her 'best enemy' in the ring.
Joséphine Nsimba Mpongo, 37, practices the cello in the Kimbanguiste neighborhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. She is a member of the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste (OSK), Central Africa's only symphony orchestra. During the day, Joséphine sells eggs in Kinshasa's main market, and rehearses with the orchestra most evenings during the week. Most of the OSK players are self-taught amateurs who hold down day jobs all over the city.
Half of humanity now lives in a city, and the United Nations has predicted that 70 percent of the world's population will reside in urban areas by 2050.
A garbage dump where aborted fetuses are frequently discarded. Abortion is a crime in Kenya, unless the life of the mother is in danger. Penalties run up to seven years in prison for a woman trying to procure a termination and twice as long for anyone conducting one. Women from richer classes can afford the € 60-80 it costs to have an abortion secretly performed by a compliant professional in a proper clinic. Poorer women have to rely on backstreet establishments, where untrained practitioners terminate pregnancies using knitting needles, bleach, malaria pills and other non-medical methods. Each year, at least 2,600 Kenyan women die after illegal abortions and 21,000 are hospitalized with complications from unsafe procedures.
Latex gloves hang up to dry after being used and then washed. The gloves are re-used to save money.
Pademba Road Prison, in Freetown, Sierra Leone was built to accommodate around 300 prisoners, but now holds more than 1,100, including many juveniles. According to Sierra Leonean law, children under 17 should not be imprisoned with adults, but poor documentation means that it is not always easy to prove age. Youths can remain in jail for years while awaiting trial, as in some cases age must be proven before a trial can commence.
A bucket at one end of the courtyard serves as latrine for the 240 remand inmates.
Tibetan monks prepare for the mass cremation of earthquake victims on a mountaintop in Yushu county, Qinghai province, in China. A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the province on 14 April, killing over 2,600 people and injuring some 12,000 more. Tibetans usually practice sky burial, leaving corpses out for vultures, but the sheer numbers of dead in this case forced the monks to abandon tradition.
The even, hard surface of Laguna de Sayula, a dried-up salt lake in western Mexico, proves an ideal location for a spontaneous high-speed race between amateurs. A small community of motor enthusiasts in Mexico devote much of their spare time to restoring, fine-tuning and customizing their cars before meeting for informal races. City streets, highways, parking lots and even indoor spaces become locations for spontaneous races.
Fernando Javier de la Barrera Angulo, in a 1967 Chrysler Plymouth Barracuda, races Raul Rosas Cano, in a 1972 Nissan Datsun, and Aaron Cervantez Flores, in a 1969 Ford Mustang.
The prize-winning photographs are touring in an exhibition that opens in 45 countries over the course of a year. Right now the show is in Cologne, Wellington, Portimão, Arrecife, Edinburgh, Seoul, Naarden, Ottawa and New York. Check out where it will be traveling in the coming months.
Matteo Bittanti and Domenico Quaranta, the authors of the very enjoyable and clever book GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames, are onto great game art adventures again. This time, they curated an exhibition that celebrates the work of Italian artists who have been experimenting with game-based technologies for more than two decades. The retrospective is heralded as an alternative to the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale --which content Adrian Searle has compared to a tour of Silvio Berlusconi's brain-- and its title is as provocative as it can get: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! While some of the names of the artists selected in the show might be new to many of you, the work of others has traveled beyond the frontiers of Italy, and in some cases has even reached far beyond the world of art games itself.
Because i make it my duty to attend as few art openings as possible and because i'm a creature from the North who finds Summer temperatures in Venice to be unbearable, i won't be able to visit and report on the show before October. But the exhibition looks so good that i decided to go ahead and ask Domenico Quaranta to tell us what we can expect from ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!!
Hi Domenico! Let's start with the title of the exhibition because i can't let you get away with a title like that without a word of explanation. How dared you?
Ah ah! To answer this question, I have to tell you why I enjoy so much to work with Matteo Bittanti. First, he is a good friend. Second, we have a pretty different perspective. Matteo is interested in art, sometimes he even acts as an artist himself; but he is much more into games. He debuted as a reviewer for game magazines, and he is now one of the most acclaimed game students around. I'm interested in games, even if I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I'm much more into art. As Italians often working abroad, we both have to confront ourselves with several commonplaces. I'm not just talking about that Jersey Shore kind of stuff. If you work in the games world, you know that Italy has a weak game industry, that has never been able to produce something relevant not only internationally, but even for its own local audience. Italians interested in working on games usually leave for other countries.
If you are working in the art world, you know that Italy has a weak art system, unable to support the artists working here on the international platform. The absence of Italian representatives in some key international events doesn't even become news anymore.
Discussing the show, we realized that the contribution that our artists brought to the international debate around videogames is much more relevant than what our weak art system, our weak game industry, our retrograde art schools, and the immaturity of the same debate in the Italian academia (and on the Italian media), would let you imagine.
Wanting to make this visible, we decided to deliver the message in a blatant, outrageous way. To be aggressive, and make some noise. To fight a commonplace you need a stock phrase. Matteo proposed to call the show "Teh Italians do it Bettah!!". We moved back from jargon to plain English to make it easier for anybody. Matteo kept the original title for his catalogue text.
The title seemed to match with many other things: the recent involution of our international reputation. The nightmare of the Italian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale. The celebrations for the 150 years from the unification of a nation that somebody called "a geographical abstraction". The fact that many artists in the show - and Matteo himself - actually live and work abroad. And the fact that most of them hate the title :-)
I couldn't see which artworks were selected (only the name of the artists) so i have to ask you whether what you attempted with this show was to demonstrate how broad the range of Italian video art game is or whether you were rather trying to highlight something they have in common?
The show is as dumb as the title we chose for it. We selected fifteen artists / works that have a little in common except their passport and the interest in videogames as a cultural form. The exhibition space was just a bunch of square meters, so we decided to fill it up without caring about the dialogue between the works. Some of them are whispering love to each other, some others are enjoying a flame war session. It's more like a salon or a fair booth: we want to sell "Italian Game Art" to the international audience of the Venice Biennale. We are waiting for some better images, but in the meantime you may enjoy my Flickr set.
By the way, is there something that makes Italian video art game different from art games from the rest of the world? The press release for the exhibition states: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! thus asks "What does it mean to be an 'Italian' artist working with video-games, today?" Do you have some kind of answer to that question?
No, except for what I told you above. I don't even know what it means to be Italian. A national identity is not, for me, a fixed concept. It's an abstract idea that should be always negotiated. Institutions usually take care of restoring it, protecting it from the attacks of internal and external forces. Somebody said: "We made Italy, now let's make Italians". Today, nobody is working on this anymore. We did what an Italian cultural institution should do, claiming the contribution of our artists to a given field of culture. But we did it without the rhetoric of an institution, and with all the irony that being freelance curators playing the role of a phantom institution allowed us to use.
The artists included in the exhibition are Italians by chance. Many of them are not even living in Italy. They are not a group, and they didn't learn what they do at school. They just share a common interest in videogames. They can't even be described as "game artists". If the term Game Art can still make some sense as a category (and I'm not completely sure about it), the term "game artist" doesn't make sense at all. It's not a matter of identity, it's just a matter of cultural interests and medium occasionally employed. With a few exception, for these artists the interest in games is just part of a broader interest in media. Carlo Zanni made a wonderful online videogame in 2004, and back in 1997 Antonio Riello made one of the first art games ever. Is this enough to call them game artists?
Neoludica is one of the collateral events of the 54. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte - la Biennale di Venezia. Can you imagine that one day a game artist would be selected to represent a country (Italy maybe?) in one of the national pavilions? How far away are we from that idea?
More seriously. The art establishment is ruled by old people who still think that videogames are just entertainment for teenagers. The cultural impact of videogames is still far to be broadly recognized by highbrow culture. But it's just a matter of time. Bill Viola made a videogame recently. The Smithsonian Museum is setting up an impressive exhibition on videogames. Neoludica is just trying to force the process a bit, bringing people together, facilitating dangerous liaisons, etc.
The exhibition was curated for the first edition of Neoludica. Can you tell us something about Neoludica? For example, is IDIB just part of a broader event? Who is behind that organization?
Italians Do It Better!! is a selection of contemporary artists concerned with the socio-cultural impact of videogames, and sometimes using games as an art medium. It was commissioned as part of Neoludica, a bigger event attempting to explore the relationship between these two terms - "art" and "videogames" - in the broader sense. Can videogames be considered art, and not just entertainment? How many creative practices converge in this innerly multimedia art form? Can videogames change our broader understanding of art? These are some of the questions Neoludica is trying to raise.
The mind behind the event is Debora Ferrari, one of the founders of Musea (the association that co-produced the event), who two years ago organized a big show on concept art in Valle d'Aosta, called The Art of Games. The exhibition puts together many different things, from contemporary art to concept design, from commercial videogames to indie games (the work of Tale of Tales is well represented). Personally, I'm both frightened and excited by this overlapping of different fields and different ideas of art. And if, on the one side, I made my best to work as a gatekeeper, designing the space in order to keep IDIB separated from the rest of the show, at the same time I think that we somewhat need such a broader platform. I'm sure that the Biennale audience will turn its nose up in front of such a mess, where commercial videogames, good craftmanship and contemporary art share the same space. But I'm really interested to see how such a dialogue will help all these cultural forms to evolve in the next years.
Any new video game artist, Italian or not, we should keep an eye on?
Let me give you a couple of names. Santa Ragione is a little game factory based in Milan. In IDIB they show their first consistent effort, Fotonica (2011). It is a first person game about jumping, traveling and discovering. You don't win or lose, you just endlessly explore a metaphysical space made of light lines inspired by abstract paintings and early 3D videogames. It has been released a couple of days before the opening, and I loved to play it at the exhibition.
The other work came too late for the show. It is a photographic project by Giovanni Fredi, a former student of mine at the Academia in Milan. He visited two places with a somewhat similar name, but very different nature, and he portrayed people playing videogames. The first place is Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, boys play videogames - mainly soccer games for Playstation - all together in self-built game arcades, on found TV screens, using electricity stolen from the street lightings. Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods in Tokio, Japan. There, people play everywhere, walking in a bubble inhabited only by themselves and their Nintendo DS. Giovanni followed these gamers, pictured them, and made two nice booklets picturing two different ways of approaching videogames. And, of course, of living in the XXI century. The project is called Kinshasa vs Akihabara (2011). When I saw the project, I sent it to Matteo, who made this nice interview for his Wired.it blog.
I thought Miltos Manetas was Greek?
Miltos Manetas is a netizen. He was born in Greece, he studied in Italy where he started getting interested in videogames. Than he moved to the States, and the Internet became his core interest. Then again he moved to London and then back to Italy. Currently, he lives in Rome. In an interview that we published in the book we just made with LINK Editions, he says: "I don't belong to any Nation. I have a Greek, an Italian, an American and also a British in me, but more than anything I am from the Internets. (Internets are realities that exist online as well as in any different territories influenced by the power of the Internet.)"
Italians Do It Better!!, an exhibition curated by Matteo Bittanti & Domenico Quaranta as part of the NEOLUDICA EVENT - ART IS A GAME 2011-1966 at the 2011 Venice Biennale of Art remains open at Sala dei Laneri, Santa Croce, 131 in Venice until November 27, 2011.
Previously on the Domenico Quaranta channel: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, Playlist, it's not (just) about nostalgia, Playlist - the physical dimension, KIOSK. Artifacts of a Post-Digital Age, ARCO - Expanded Box and ARCO Beep New Media Art Award.
Austin Houldsworth has installed a 3 tonnes and 4m-tall 'Fossilisation Machine' in Tatton Park, a historic estate in Cheshire, England. With Two Million & 1AD, the artist is trying to create a fossil over the course of a few months. His rudimentary, human-designed machines substitute and speed-up processes that would otherwise require thousands of years. Houldsworth's project starts with the attempt to petrify both a Tatton-grown pineapple and pheasant, and conclude when it is a human who ends up fossilised. There are no known petrified remains of Homo sapiens sapiens in the current fossil record. Shouldn't there be?
The little information about 2 Million &1AD i found online triggered my curiosity:
Hello Austin! Last time i saw you, you were studying design. Why do i find your work in an art biennial now? Did you have an art background before Design Interactions or do you find that your work function as well (or maybe better?) in an art as in a design context?
I proposed the '2 Million &1AD' project to curators Danielle Arnaud and Jordan Kaplan in September 2009; they liked the project invited me for an interview and commissioned me to construct the machine. It was a great opportunity that has allowed me to actually build a prototype of the machine I imagined during my time studying Design Interactions.
Before studying Design at the Royal College of Art, I gained my BA in Interactive Arts from Manchester Metropolitan University, so I have both an Art and Design background. Regarding '2 Million and 1AD' building the machine was an important part of the project and I believe it sits well in an art context simply because design unfortunately is often condensed into a small corner of an exhibition space. The Tatton Park Biennial was an ideal location to build a machine like this; a functioning prototype which requires a large amount of space but also sufficient time for the process to be tested - at least 5 months. Many design exhibitions simply do not have the space or time required for such an undertaking.
Why did you choose to fossilize one of the estate's glasshouse-grown pineapples? Why not a more English cauliflower for example?
I chose the pineapple in favour of a more obvious 'English' alternative in acknowledgement of the history of Tatton Park. Before the park became a National Trust property in the 1958, it was owned and run by a long line of lords, the last being Lord Maurice Egerton. One of the reasons the management at Tatton Park allowed me to construct the machine within their well managed formal gardens was because they believed Lord Egerton, (who took an interest in science and innovation) would have potentially commissioned one himself. Also, at this time to grow a pineapple in England took technological innovation, money and hard work - so perhaps if Lord Egerton was to conserve anything it would have been one of the rare English grown pineapples.
Now can you explain us why you'd like to eventually fossilize a human being? Did you find a "volunteer" for that? and if yes, how?
When we start to think of human existence on the same timescale as the dinosaurs, humans appear to be a mere blip on the timeline of this planet. The ammonite (an extinct marine animal) existed for roughly 350 million years, compared with modern humans who appeared about 200 thousand years ago. As we control every aspect of our lives, including our burials, the conditions required for the creation of a human fossil are remote as the casket is the perfect environment for decay. But for me it is the potential that is interesting; the possibility over these timescales that an entirely different race could evolve and with consciousness to contemplate humanities existence - that is what I find fascinating.
Finding a volunteer would not be too difficult; many people I have spoken to are open to the idea of being petrified and becoming a part of the fossil record. Even one of the biennials' curators was open to the idea. However, I do not believe we have the resources or the space for everyone to become a human fossil. I only intend to fossilise one person, whose identity will be concealed.
Now how about this 4m-tall, 3 tonnes 'Fossilisation Machine'? Which kind of "rudimentary, human-designed machines" do they contain? How will they manage to fossilize a pineapple? Can you take us through the process of fossilization?
The machine itself is constructed from a combination of purpose built parts and off-the-shelf industrial PVC piping, tanks, domestic copper pipe work and a large quantity of limestone with 2500 litres of water. Due to the weight 'Pochins' (a construction firm near Cheshire) pumped in concrete for the foundations which the main wooded frame sits on.
The machine replicates the natural process of Petrification, which is a form of fossilisation where organic matter is replaced with minerals. It does this by saturating the water with an extremely high quantity of minerals in the form of Calcium and Magnesium. A small quantity of sulphuric acid has been added to the tank containing the limestone; this replicates the natural acidity of rain water which reacts with the alkaline limestone and forms Calcium Sulphate (commonly known as gypsum), which is a very water soluble mineral (compared with Calcium carbonate).
Members of the public pump the water from the two tanks at the bottom to the header tank located at the top of the machine. This water then slowly trickles through the containers which house the pineapple and Partridge - and during the Biennial (hopefully) will transform the organic objects into stone.
Can visitors actually see something of the ongoing fossilization process? Or can they only admire the containers?
As the pineapple is suspended in sand, it is very difficult to show the public the process as it happens. But I also prefer it this way, the anticipation and excitement of waiting for the result bares similarities to finding a naturally occurring fossil - as the condition and quality isn't realised until the remains have been carefully unearthed.
on view at the Tatton Park Biennial until September 26, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, England.
All images courtesy of Austin Houldsworth.