Toward a “Bacterial Turn” in Art, Architecture and Design, Jens Hauser, δημοσίευση S+T+ ARTS
In art, architecture and cultural heritage, microorganisms have traditionally been considered a threat from the standpoint of bio-deterioration and conservation studies, so much so that – from Robert Koch to Louis Pasteur – bacteria have been described as “invading animals” and have been considered notorious pathological agents ever since science discovered the causality between disease and bacteria in the nineteenth century. Recently, however, prokaryotic single-cell organisms have been rehabilitated within the trend of a post-anthropocentric approach to deal with biodiversity loss, ecosystem health and urban transformation, as illustrated by the EU’s S+T+ARTS initiative “Repairing the present”.
Instead of contributing to the pervasive problem of city light pollution, artist Samira Benini Allaouat and her resolutely interdisciplinary team aim to install Geo-Llum in a community-driven urban rehabilitation zone to “high-light” and raise public awareness of the catalytic ability of soil bacteria such as the Geobacter species, discovered in 1987, to both bio-remediate contaminated soils and to convert chemical energy from organic substances into electric current. The project, supported by the CCCB as a regional S+T+ARTS centre, not only addresses contemporary microbial fuel cell (MFC) research, focusing on alternative and renewable energy sources to replace our current reliance on fossil fuels. It also emphasises that humans are deeply intertwined with microbial ecologies, prompting the question, “how might we integrate microorganisms to design more sustainable cities?” by re-enriching the urban microbiome, fostering better ecological interactions in order to increase biodiversity – understood beyond the common focus on plants and animals – and improving the health of cities’ multi-species inhabitants. The light sculptures, whose organic shapes are made out of biomaterials and also serve as rainwater collectors, are intended to empower the local population, but they also draw attention to the fact that microorganisms, after creating the major gases of the earth’s atmosphere (nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide), continue to shape, and are pervasive in our en-vironments and in-vironments alike; they constitute, as Ted Krueger states, “two ecologies … the environment we inhabit [and] the microbiome: the one that inhabits us. Both of them are critical to our survival.”
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