Wastelands Project Overview

 

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Wastelands is a playful, yet, serious biological art project exploring current bioengineering practices applying methanogenic bacteria and archaea to produce methane through anaerobic degradation and regulate its production through the introduction of phage lysate.  

This biological art project speculates on a future 500 hundred years from now when humans are using the biotechnology to create biogas, fuelling the world with only our waste- excrement, methanogens and viruses– the key ingredients for production of methane biogas.

The project features the research and creation of a series of small wearable biogas generator sculptures made from microbes and excrement to be exhibited at the Foreman Art Gallery at the University of Sherbrooke and the Broad Museum at MSU in the spring of 2018.

I am interested in working with ruminal methangenic bacteria and archaea, microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments like the guts of cows, sheep and humans. Increased human activity causes methane emissions to rise because methanogens grow well in animal guts, sewage processing plants and landfill sites. Methane is one of the largest causes of climate change but used on a small scale, methane can be applied as a sustainable and ‘clean’ biogas.

The research explores how methane fermentation offers an effective means of pollution reduction, superior to that achieved via conventional aerobic processes. Although practiced for decades, interest in anaerobic fermentation has only recently focused on its use in the economic recovery of fuel gas from industrial and agricultural surpluses. This creation of “green” renewable biogas via anaerobic fermentation processes is quickly becoming the focus of biotech innovation. If it can be “scaled up” the technology will potentially reduce fuel emissions derived from the agriculture industry. However, this technological drive does not challenge or change the deeper issues around the industrialization of animal agriculture, but rather it re-enforces the same vision of utilitarianism where large scale efficient monoculture production is manifested through the labour of living beings. What if this “green” tech considered alternative relations between human-animal-microbial interactions that are not based on utilitarian and capital driven results?

What if this new/old tech was scaled down for personal use? What kind of lifestyles might emerge? How might humans see themselves when depending on their own waste and the interaction with microbes to survive?

My goal is to build 4 small wearable bio gas methane generators (small sculptures that will feature living organisms) that will recycle human-animal excrement to produce sustainable biogas fuel for humans to live on the planet in an unforeseeable future. The idea is that in the future each human will be able to produce their own fuel through excrement- a renewable and ‘clean’ energy source. This idea is also deliberately rather absurd since from a societal point of view, cleanliness (and aseptic technique) is the dominate ideology of the day. Who, today, would want to carry poop and bacteria on their body? Well, the attitudes that humans in the future will have to their poop and microbes will be very different. Future lifestyles will also change by adopting a new vision of “clean” energy.

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