Researchers: Matthew Halpenny (BioLab member), Owen Coolidge (BioLab member), Matthew Salaciak (BioLab member), Emma Fourgues, and Sam Bourgault, BFA students, Design and Computation Arts.
Project scope: Fungi is an integral ecological link in forests transferring nutrients between many species of both plants and animals as well as conveying information about environmental threats between trees allowing them to preemptively send and request nutrients from other trees. Functionally, this mycelial network is to a forest ecology as the internet is to human society. However, the “hardware” of this network is not fiber optic cables, data centers, nor personal computers, but rather life forms of far greater complexity and nuance inextricably linked within an ecology which is itself another organism of even greater complexity. Nature exhibits intelligence that is the product of billions of years of constant evolution and refinement that dwarfs even the most advanced human made machine or system of humans and machines. Mycocene is a transposition of human made electronic networks and nature such that the “purpose” of electronic technology as a tool for anthropocentric endeavors disintegrates entirely and what is left is a grotesque environment that reflects the deathly ill nature emerging from human’s contributions to earth.
Mycocene’s technical summary can be divided into two segments – biological and electronic. The biological aspect involves the cultivation and exhibition of the species Physarum polycephalum and the electronic segment revolves around the repurposing of electronic waste into the installation. Physarum is a protista that behaves and communicates in a sophisticated social network allowing it to form colonies with a basic intelligence. Previously classified as a mycelial species because of it’s hyphal structure, it is actually a group of individuals forming emergent patterns. It was chosen to represent the Mycocene due to the parallels of human individuals needing to adapt as a collective species in order to affect positive change on our ecosystems.
The Physarum is kept in a cycle of constant growth in Concordia’s BioLab (a division of Milieux’s Speculative Life). Cultivating Physarum in the rhizotron is done weeks before a given exhibition as each display of Mycocene starts the life cycle from scratch due to the lifespan of Physarum being between a week and a month. The rhizotron is a custom built display for the Physarum. It allows a sterile growing environment that can be completely sealed off from the external environment for transportation and display. In the rhizotron, a batch of agar medium is prepared and evenly spread across the bottom while in a liquid state. When solidified, a food source is added to the box (oat flakes) and [physarum] inoculated oats are added into the medium. The box contains two cable cavities for electrodes to reach the growth medium without being exposed to the environment. The rhizotron is probed with two silver electrode needles connected to an amplification and noise reduction circuit. This establishes an electrical reading from the physarum which measures differential voltage between the environment (agar) and hyphae. This voltage difference is recorded via a microcontroller and mapped through a power supply to the repurposed electronics.
The other technical component of Mycocene is the electronics (e-waste). The e-waste were donated to the artists to be repurposed into the installation. Such items include piezoelectric speakers, hard drives, CD drives, computer fans, motherboards, cameras, etc. By reverse engineering each received item, we were able to restore some aspects of their former electronic identities, reclaiming parts of their past life. The entire soundscape behind the project is created by placing repurposed piezoelectric speakers as contact microphones on mechanical elements of the e-waste. The microphones listen as a sonic microscope to the breathing and pulsing movements of the rebirthed e-waste. By connecting the e-waste to the Physarum, Mycocene brings them back into the earth (soil) from which their components are mined from, allowing the electronics to behave organically – Unraveling memories from their past, but most importantly, continuing their life symbiotically within the natural ecosystem.
Presentation photos by: Mycocene.