Bio Impressionism
Solar Sonnet
Global Trend Report
Cut Glass Slip Cast
Compound Stool
Woven Textiles: Digital
Festive Storage
Ornament Tea Set
Hub Light

On the cusp of the age of synthetic biology, this art installation was designed to serve as a platform to reflect and speculate about possible futures, applications and consequences of designing solutions for water contamination using transgenic technology.

In this work, two new species of Lemna (or Duckweed), Lemna Orange and Lemna Purple, have been synthetically engineered to visually communicate the measurement of heavy contaminates in fresh bodies of water. For this installation, a triptych of three pools beneath the floor are painted with these new species, which change color from green to orange and purple when growing in water that is polluted with traces of lead.

Lemna minor is a free-floating aquatic plant species of the Lemna (Duckweed) family that grows throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. It is a natural hyperaccumulator of metal content, which inspired the genetic modification of it to serve as a visibly recognizable bioindicator. Researchers at Duke University built a system that successfully detects for the presence of TNT, which then follows a signal transduction pathway, and eventually calls for the transcription of a specific gene. This research served as a guide for the adaptation of it to detect for the presence of heavy metal content and upon detection, activate either a gene responsible for the production of beta carotene, in the case of the Lemna Orange, or anthocyanins, in the case of Lemna Purple. This system created is orthogonal, therefore it will not interrupt the plant’s already occurring hyperaccumulation of metal content from water.

Though not meant as a functional design solution, this technology could have the potential to be used for bioindication and phytoremediation in bodies of water where water testing is scarce and accountability is needed such as around mines or industrial facilities. However, releasing a genetically modified organism into the environment would have a significant and potentially unknowable effect on the species and its environment/ecosystem and our intention was to draw into question these uses. Even keeping the plant within the gallery walls may still lead to unintended consequences just by the fact that we are fundamentally introducing a new species into the world. Though this technology is not significantly riskier than other research currently being conducted in genetic engineering, to further mitigate the potential for risk the genetic sequence will be made open source and published to communities that are self-policing and aware of the ethics and implications of synthetically engineered plants.

The lines of what is and what is not nature have been blurred in the anthropocene by the massive impact of humans on the earth’s processes and will only continue to exacerbated by advances in synthetic biology. How we have exploited resources and fundamentally modified our environment should inform how similar concerns should be faced With this installation we hope to portray the recurring desire to paint romanticized images of the sacred landscape, however the pigments are only expressed in vivid purple and orange as a consequence of contaminated water.

Collaborators : Alex Exum & Joyce Lee

和木 Hé Mù
Material Manipulation
Matrix Jig
Wood Reduction
Suspension Molding
Woven Textiles: Hand