CYANOVISIONS

Cyanovisions is a transdisciplinary project combining video and bioart that engages with the tools of biotechnology in order to explore deeper narratives related to human identity, symbioses with other species, and our rapidly changing environment and bodies in an era of climate change. This project focuses on cyanobacteria, the first organisms on the planet to photosynthesize, thus creating our atmosphere which led to complex biological life. Humans generate the pollutants that cause inland aggregations of toxic cyanobacteria blooms, yet we also create new life forms through synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and artificial life. What would the future look like if humans and cyanobacteria merged membranes, genes, and metabolisms? Inspired by recent experiments in CRISPR gene editing technologies, Cyanovisions posits potentials for biological hybridity and scientific spiritualities with microbial species that recognize the inextricable relationship of humans to those of other organisms.

2nd exhibition of Cyanovisions at Leonardo’s 50th Anniversary Celebration at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco

2nd exhibition of Cyanovisions at Leonardo’s 50th Anniversary Celebration at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco

The first exhibition of Cyanovisions - Initial Studies included the incubation of 5 strains of Cyanobacteria; an immersive installation as a speculative photobioreactor made with Dasha Ortenberg, and a series of bioplastics. Cyanobacteria cultures were sonified and magnified in different variations, especially to show the weaving of biofilms produced by Oscillatoria strains, and their filaments. An immersive photobioreactor made of 1000 feet of tubing houses the growth of Spirulina. The bioplastics were experiments using phycocyanin and spirulina pigment for new materials or wearables using laboratory equipment as molds for creating new forms.

Cyanobacteria are one of the most ancient life forms, a species that was responsible for first creating oxygen on our planet through photosynthesis. They caused the Great Oxidation Event - what Dorion Sagan terms the Cyanocene over 2.5 billion years ago - both an extinction event for organisms intolerant to oxygen, yet later spawning new heights of global biodiversity and all oxygen dependent life, including humans. Today, cyanobacteria proliferate as Harmful Algal Blooms in lakes, rivers, and estuaries around the world, creating toxic environments for humans and other species. As the element first created by this ancient life form sustains us, we in turn generate the pollutants that stimulate its unmitigated and toxic growth.

This project asks: How will we genetically engineer our bodies to survive in extreme conditions due to climate change? As taboos and bioethics around genetic experimentation on the human body shifts over time, what are speculative eroticisms around genetic engineering and potential laboratory sensualities and rituals that may develop? How can we envision more radically inclusive futures - where the tools of biotechnology are accessible, created, and practiced by historically marginalized communities in the field, such as women, POC, transgender, and non-binary scientists?

Cyanovisions hopes to reposition our relationship to cyanobacteria by showing the beauty of it's different forms and highlighting the evolutionary history of these organisms - viewing them on a geological timescale versus a human timescale. It questions what is perceived as toxic as aggregations of these ancient and intelligent organisms could very well be an attempt to bring ecosystems back into balance.