InC02, An Artistic Medium for the Anthropocene: On the Aesthetics of Futility


In short, InC02 is a medium that has been designed to sense and respond to the presence of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere, and in doing this turns from a deep blue colour to being colourless. Any art made with it then is necessarily ephemeral, fleeting, and perhaps even futile, provided it is exposed to our planet’s atmosphere which contains both natural, and anthropogenic carbon dioxide. As in the video above, poetry written with InC02, drawings made with it, or textile designs printed with it, will all slowly disappear as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. Intriguingly, this greenhouse gas also becomes incorporated into any work made with the ink. Conversely, if any art made with it is stored in an atmosphere, or gas mix devoid of carbon dioxide, then under such conditions the works will be permanent.

The Carbon Dioxide Sensing Mechanism

The key component of InC02 is the pH indicator thymolphthalein which is blue at alkaline pH but turns colourless when exposed to acidic conditions. In a dilute solution of sodium hydroxide the pH indicator then will be a deep blue colour. However, as the carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is absorbed into the ink it reacts with the water in the solution to form carbonic acid, which then in turn reacts with the sodium hydroxide form sodium carbonate. This reaction series lowers the pH of the solution, with the alcohol also acting as an acid, to turn the indicator into its colourless form

Instructions for making InC02 (at your own risk) 

  1. Begin by adding 1g of thymolphthalein to 100 mL of ethanol and then stir to dissolve all of the powder.
  2. Next add 900 mL of water to the solution and stir. At this point the solution will become white and cloudy because the thymolphthalein indicator is not soluble in water.
  3. Finally, slowly add 10 mL of 3 molar sodium hydroxide to the solution to turn the liquid a dark blue.

The fading time can be prolonged by adding more sodium hydroxide. In addition, a red coloured version of InC02 disappearing ink can be made using phenolphthalein in place of thymolphthalein.

Urotypes: Piss Flowers



The invention of a process to repurpose my own (and willing participants) urine into a light sensitive photographic medium.

This new work has numerous inspirations, for example, in the tradition amongst early microbiologists for self-experimentation and self-inoculation, and most recently by Nobel Prize winning scientist Barry Marshall’s selfless ingestion of Helicobacter pylori  which resulted a paradigm shift in our understanding of the bacterial aetiology of gastric ulcers and cancer. It is also influenced by the many artists, including Helen Chadwick and Andy Warhol who have used human bodily fluids, and in particular urine,  in their work. Finally, I see it is an act that reflects Yves Klein’s work at Le Vide in which “Special blue cocktails were served: a mixture of gin, Cointreau and methylene blue prepared for Klein by La Coupole, the famous brasserie. As Klein intended, the cocktails caused the urine of drinkers to turn blue”

On its own, and unaltered, there is no usable light-responsive biochemistry in urine and so, in order to instil such a function upon my own urine, I ingested 100 mg of  Riboflavin.  This vitamin is naturally fluorescent so when it is exposed to Ultra Violet light it glows with a yellowy green light.  Moreover, the dose is unnecessarily high, and such that, the majority of the Riboflavin that I consumed passes unaltered through my gut, into my blood, and then into my urine making it fluorescent. The image below shows a time course of my urine taken before (far left bijou), and then at 30 minute intervals after consumption (bijous to the right of the first one), and the long wavelength UV light  (365nm)reveals the appearance of the fluorescent vitamin Riboflavin, and then its disappearance.


Whilst exhibiting fluorescence, Riboflavin is also sensitive to, and degraded by UV light, and so in order to generate an image using my doped urine, I soaked paper with it and I placed a fern on it to protect  UV-sensitive vitamin beneath and then exposed the paper to short wavelength UV (254nm) light for one hour. The resulting Urotypes of the fern leaf can be seen below. Intriguingly, the image is invisible in daylight as it requires UV light to generate the fluorescence, and because Riboflavin is degraded by this type of light, the act of observation destroys the work.



Ant Art: Swarm Intelligence


Ant Art. Seeing so many flying ants recently reminded me of an old work exploring social intelligence. I labelled a food source for ants with a harmless fluorescent marker. A UV lamp then revealed an ant trail up a wall and back to the nest. Formed by collective behaviour and the footfall of hundreds, perhaps thousands of ants.