Shards From A Synthetic Glacier

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I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Iceland three times, over the past 20 years, and even in this relatively small timescale, I’ve been able to observe the dramatic impact of climate change on its many glaciers. I’ve also got a small collection of glacial melt water from a few of its glaciers.

One such water sample is from Vatnajökull, the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in area in Europe. As the glacial ice melted, the ordered and crystalline form of water would have been converted into the disordered liquid state that I collected. Back in the United Kingdom, I’ve developed a process that converts the glacial melt water back into a crystalline state once again, but one that is now heat-stable and will not melt in my hand,  and thus converted the glacial into a vital blue form that will resist the impact of climate change.

The crystals first emerge as small plate-like forms (below)

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which grow and then merge into the larger shards that can be seen below

 

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Blood Flowers (2017). Media: My Blood and Anhydrous Copper (II) Sulphate

There are various inspirations at play here, which all share a generative and autogenic origin. Helen Chadwick’s “Piss Flowers” and Roger Horns’ “Untitled Works”  and “Seizure”. The process is simple, my blood drips onto a thick layer  of Anhydrous Copper (II) Sulphate (a chemical once used to test for anaemia). On contact with the substratum, my blood immediately forms a bright red “bud”. Then slowly, as my blood interacts with, and feeds the cupric chemistry, a small chimeric flower, comprising  copper and my own blood, begins to  blossom. Aesthetic beauty created out of an alliance of the fundamentals of self and of chemistry.

 

 

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Project Cladophora 2017: the Bramfield Strain.

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A culture of the algae Cladophora 

Many different microorganisms (such as fungi, cellulose producing bacteria) are being explored as the sources of  sustainable materials, and especially for textiles. Almost without exception though, these organisms are, like ourselves,  chemoheterotrophs, that is they are unable to fix carbon to form their own organic compounds and have to obtain energy and biochemical building blocks by ingesting those produced by other organisms. For example, the fungi and bacteria that are used to grow textile materials require a food stock, that is a   rich soup of nutrients, that derive from other plant and animal products, and thus their sustainability might be questionable. To the contrary, photosynthetic bacteria and algae, are photoautrophs being able Such organisms derive their energy for food synthesis from light and carbon for the synthesis biochemical building block from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Consequently, photoautotrophs can produce biomaterials from little more than sunlight, water  and air. It is my belief then, that only photoautotrophs can offer a truly sustainable source for future biomaterials and textiles. An example of such a holophytic approach is detailed below.

Cladophora is a genus of reticulated filamentous and photosynthetic green algae. Commonly known as blanket weed, this is a very common and cosmopolitan pond algae, and the dense growth of its hair-like green strands that float under, or on the surface, can be a major nuisance in decorative ponds.

Now seems the time to reconsider this organism, to repurpose it and to make use of its remarkable properties.  Cladophora is an extraordinarily fast growing filamentous algae and can grow up to two meters a day. It is also photosynthetic and thus removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This algae also grows in the form of long microfilaments that form a dense green mat which naturally suggests that it could form a sustainable and carbon dioxide abstracting source of fibres for clothing which might be used to replace polyester, wool or cotton, for example (see below).

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A dense mat of algal microfibres of Cladophora

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Algal microfibres of Cladophora

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Algal microfibres of Cladophora

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Scientists at C-MOULD are investigating different strains of  Cladophora for their suitability for the production of sustainable textiles, for example, for growth rate, ease of culture and tensile strength. The strain here is the Bramfield strain, isolated from the pond of friends who live in this Suffolk village.

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A Cladophora ceedling. A small section of fibres teased from a natural mat of the Blanket Weed.

The process begins by teasing out a small section of a natural mat of the Blanket Weed (Cladophora) called a Ceedling (this name derives the fact this small part of the mat acts a clone and seed from which further mats are grown.

The Ceedlings are then introduced into shallow growth containers where they form dense mats over a period of 4 weeks (see below).

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Growth of the Bramfield Cladophora strain after a week.

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Growth of the Bramfield Cladophora strain after 4 weeks.

Blood Sculpture 2017. Media Human Blood, Hydrogen Peroxide and Detergent

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An image of a Blood Sculpture produced at my BioHacking The Body Workshop using blood from donor sheep, BOM, Birmingham

Blood Sculptures, are a series of new and evolving works that explore blood, its biochemistry, and the human culture that relates to it. They also reflect the autogenic nature of much of my work,  and the use of materials that are both uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Blood possesses a highly complex and life supporting biochemistry, and many of its components have ancient evolutionary origins in bacteria, for example, haemoglobin and the enzyme catalase. In their realisation, Blood Sculptures reveal this ancient biochemistry. These autogenic and ephemeral sculptures are formed by mixing blood with hydrogen peroxide and detergent. The catalase enzyme present in blood has one of the highest turnover rates of any known enzyme, so that one catalase molecule can convert millions of hydrogen peroxide molecules into water and oxygen gas every second. This catalysis, and the rapid liberation of bubbles of elemental oxygen, drives the formation of bloody foaming structures,  and produces a substance that grows and develops organically.  The sculptures, resemble Roger Hiorns’ Untiled sculptures, in which ceramic vessels slowly produce pillars of foam, but here the foam is powered by a vital and intimate human biochemistry.

Below are the first two tests for Blood Sculptures made in this case using blood from donor sheep.

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The sheep’s blood prior to the addition of hydrogen peroxide

 

Tests for Blood Sculpture using blood from donor sheep (below). 

 

The Blood Sculptures below were made by participants at my recent BioHack The Body Workshop at I ran at BOM, Birmingham.

Blood Sculpture made using blood from donor sheep at a BOM workshop (below)

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In the latest development of this process, I’ve been using my own blood and old glass medical device and bottles as in the video below. I’m struck by the way in which my own blood produces a substance that rapidly grows and develops organically, so that it seems to consume the glass bottle, much like one of the white blood cells within it, would engulf an invading bacterial pathogen, linking the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Blood Sculpture 2017. Media Human Blood, Hydrogen Peroxide and Detergent

 

The sculptures formed are ephemeral, and have a very short life-cycle. As the gaseous oxygen escapes the foam to the atmosphere, the sculptures soon collapse. During this process, the foam develops an almost ghost-like quality until it finally collapses into a bloody and sticky entropic residue, perhaps reflecting our own existences.  This process is captured into the time-lapse video below.

 

Below are images of the a bloody and sticky entropic residue.

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The Judas Lamp: blood betrays (2017). Media: Hydrogen Peroxide, Luminol, and Human Blood.

 

This work grew from a project that I ran at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) in April 2017 which was based on the chemistry that occurs between blood and the compound luminol. This chemical exhibits chemiluminescence and emits a blue glow, when mixed with an appropriate catalyst and oxidizing agent. In the system I ran at BOM, luminol was mixed with hydrogen peroxide and the catalyst was blood from donor sheep. In a dark room participants gradually pipetted drops of blood into the luminol solution and the lamp was immediately brought to light, illuminating the room with ephemeral blue glow.

A video of the Hema Lamp, with Sheep’s blood and luminol in the dark revealing the blood powered chemiluminescence (below). 

 

 

This current work explores the blood test, that many of us now have during routine medical check-ups, and the fact that whatever we tell the General Practitioner (GP) about our lifestyle, this blood test reveals the truth. For example, this test, can reveal how much fat or sugar we consume, how much alcohol we drink, whether we smoke,  and markers of diseases that we don’t know then that we now have. In the Judas Lamp then, my own blood drips (image above) into the primed luminol solution, and its biochemistries, and my future health, are revealed in the complex and ephemeral blue chemiluminescent patterns that emerge.

Videos of the Judas Lamp (below). As my own blood drips into the primed luminol solution, its biochemistries, and my future health, are revealed in the complex and ephemeral blue chemiluminescent patterns that emerge.

 

In a sense, the act becomes a biochemically enlightened version of scrying, with the flask becoming a modern orbuculum (or crystal ball), and lens through which my future health is revealed.