Living Things creates a symbiotic environment between people and microorganisms

Living Things creates a symbiotic environment between people and microorganisms (10)

Ethan Frier in collaboration with Jacob Douenias have created Living Things, a project that extend the area of use of micro-algae.

Description by Ethan Frier: Living Things is an installation which explores symbiotic living with beneficial micro-algae through a series of three vignettes of a home environment. This installation contains furniture and furnishings of a possible and not too distant future where the symbiosis between human beings and microorganisms is externalized and celebrated in the built environment.

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We are celebrating the beautiful qualities of the beneficial micro-algae by integrating them into unique yet familiar forms. This exhibits challenges visitors to consider what the future of the domestic environment may become, especially in the context of the precarious agricultural and energy needs of a ballooning population.

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Through an installation of domestic vignettes in which Spirulina algae are cultivated in custom glass bioreactors designed as household furnishings, Living Things creates a symbiotic environment between people and microorganisms.

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The three vignettes; a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen/control center each espouse a different character, and the living vessels function differently in each space. The morphologies of hand-blown glass vessels function both as lighting and heating elements for the human occupants, and high functioning photobioreactors which provide heat, light, agitation, air supply, nutrient and waste control to the living algae inside. This life support system is connected through just under ½ mile of wiring and plumbing to a hybrid between a scientific workstation and a media cabinet. At this workstation each of the nine vessel’s life support systems can be adjusted individually. The 3D printed nylon knobs embedded in the surface of this workstation actuate eighteen valves which allow for the harvesting of Spirulina when the culture becomes dense enough, and the supply of fresh liquid media to each vessel. The cabinet contains the pumps, tubing, manifolds, LED drivers, air pumps, heater connections and filters which comprise the heart of the life support system.

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The microorganism Spirulina was selected for the installation for its ability to thrive in very alkaline waters, where most bacteria cannot live. As the algae grow very quickly, the character of each vessel changes continuously. The liquid becomes a deeper rich green and absorbs more and more light from the internally lit vessels. Individual Spirulina filaments which are just barely visible to the naked eye (⅓ of a millimeter long) can be seen mixing inside the glass vessels. Once filtered, the algae can be dried from a viscous paste into a fine, green powder which is over 60% protein by weight and is mostly flavorless with a hint of grassiness. During the course of the installation, we are working with bartenders and chefs to create drinks and dishes which feature Spirulina at special events held in the installation. Living Things by Ethan Frier and Jacob Douenias

Project: Living Things
Team: Ethan Frier and Jacob Douenias
Client: Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Date: January – May 2015

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Living Things creates a symbiotic environment between people and microorganisms (9)

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