I have had some more time to think now about what my project is going to be, how it is going to function, and how it is going to look, and it’s beginning to formulate to the point where there is not much left but to start building!
I discussed in a previous post the reading I had done about the Biomodd projects, which aim to create symbiotic relationships between technology and living organisms. It was not just the conceptual and metaphorical aspects of the projects that I took inspiration from, however. The aesthetic qualities of the projects, with technology and biology seamlessly intertwined and coexisting, are exactly what I am planning for my own project.
I have also been inspired by a project by Carlos Castellanos which uses local water quality data to influence a digital visualisation alongside the organic media which would, I assume, also display quite clearly the quality of the water they are using to survive.
I initially conceptualised a project where the technology was hidden away from sight, with a clean, tidy, clinical aesthetic that would speak “this is a finished product”. However, with time I felt more like the technology needed to be front and centre alongside the biology, in order to highlight the relationship and interconnectedness between man-made technology and the natural world. By hiding it, I felt like I was pushing the issues technology pose to nature under the rug when that is exactly the discussion I want my project to provoke.
I am therefore imagining a transparent/translucent, fishbowl-shaped structure in which my vegetation is planted and which is lit with RGB LEDs. The data being fed in will continually alter the “state” depending on the severity of the pollution data. So, for example, on a day when there is lots of pollution, the state of the installation will degrade much more quickly and on a day with no pollution the state will never degrade (though I expect that to never happen).
To support the life of the plants I will connect a sensor-driven pump to supply the vegetation with the right amount of nutrient water so to keep it healthy.
As the immaterial “state” degrades, so too does the material state of the installation. So with the declining state, the nutrient water being fed into the system will change. At the moment there are a couple of options;
- Either the water simply stops flowing
- The water is gradually replaced with a non-nutrient containing red water which discolours plants and denies them of nutrition.
- There is a second reservoir of red water which slowly “tilts” to pour into the main reservoir, offering a clear visual indication of how close to “killing” the plants the system is. This is a difficult one to describe but right now is probably my favourite.
To reset the immaterial state and thus help the plants stay healthy, I have one new idea for user interaction. I have an idea for a large, single button that you can press to reset the state. This is a metaphor for using technology to fix the problem, as the technocentric agenda would have you do on a global scale. However, to echo the calls to restrict our use of technology, I would therefore restrict the use of the button. Perhaps it can only be used in dire circumstances (the red water is about to flood the reservoir) or can only be used once in a set period of time. Therefore the most effective solution is to combat the initial cause of the degradation – pollution – and only use technology as a restricted last resort when needed.
In addition to the hardware and the organisms, I also plan to have a display set up in a way that intermingles with the plants. On the display I want to show the data coming in, so as to give a realtime impression of the issue that enhances the visual look of the project and meets my aesthetic aspirations. I have written before quite a lot about the opinions of various people, including myself, that using computer monitors and screens to display information is unimaginative and disengaging, but in my case I believe it suits the purpose perfectly, as the computer monitor is a quintessential metaphor for technology in many people’s minds and the most common technological interface in the world (besides maybe buttons and switches).
This has just been an overview of my plan for the project as it stands on 1st March. Now, I must begin developing my ideas literally and begin to find the most appropriate solutions for all of the questions I have about what will be “best.”
I was fortunate in the last few days to meet with Diego Maranan, one of the people involved with the Biomodd projects. I explained my ideas to him, to which we had an interesting discussion about the ethics behind using technology and electricity to make the points I’m making, when in doing so I am inevitably contributing to the problems of pollution and climate change. To this Diego discussed with me the concept of a “purpose multiplier,” which I understood in the context of my project to mean that while my practices will unfortunately contribute to the problem, the positive outcomes in discussion and awareness for the issue give justice to the project.