Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Patrick Millard | Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis from vasa on Vimeo.

Wearable cameras allow for motion capture anywhere

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

A wearable camera system makes it possible for motion capture to occur almost anywhere — in natural environments, over large areas, and outdoors, scientists at Disney Research, Pittsburgh (DRP), and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have shown.

The camera system reconstructs the relative and global motions of an actor, using a process called structure from motion (SfM) to estimate the pose of the cameras on the person.

Motion capture can occur almost anywhere

SfM is also used to estimate rough position and orientation of limbs as the actor moves through an environment and to collect sparse 3-D information about the environment that can provide context for the captured motion. This serves as an initial guess for a refinement step that optimizes the configuration of the body and its location in the environment, resulting in the final motion capture result.

The researchers used Velcro to mount 20 lightweight cameras on the limbs and trunk of each subject. Each camera was calibrated with respect to a reference structure. Each person then performed a range-of-motion exercise that allowed the system to automatically build a digital skeleton and estimate positions of cameras with respect to that skeleton.

The quality of motion capture from body-mounted cameras does not yet match the fidelity of traditional motion capture, but will improve as the resolution of small video cameras continues to improve, the researchers said.

Source | Kurzweil AI

The Biological Canvas

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Curatorial Statement

The Biological Canvas parades a group of hand selected artists who articulate their concepts with body as the primary vessel.  Each artist uses body uniquely, experimenting with body as the medium: body as canvas, body as brush, and body as subject matter.  Despite the approach, it is clear that we are seeing new explorations with the body as canvas beginning to emerge as commonplace in the 21st century.

There are reasons for this refocusing of the lens or eye toward body.  Living today is an experience quite different from that of a century, generation, decade, or (with new versions emerging daily) even a year ago.  The body truly is changing, both biologically and technologically, at an abrupt rate.  Traditional understanding of what body, or even what human, can be defined as are beginning to come under speculation.  Transhuman, Posthuman, Cyborg, Robot, Singularity, Embodiment, Avatar, Brain Machine Interface, Nanotechnology …these are terms we run across in media today.  They are the face of the future – the dictators of how we will come to understand our environment, biosphere, and selves.  The artists in this exhibition are responding to this paradigm shift with interests in a newfound control over bodies, a moment of self-discovery or realization that the body has extended out from its biological beginnings, or perhaps that the traditional body has become obsolete.

We see in the work of Orlan and Stelarc that the body becomes the malleable canvas.  Here we see some of the earliest executions of art by way of designer evolution, where the artist can use new tools to redesign the body to make a statement of controlled evolution.  In these works the direct changes to the body open up to sculpting the body to be better suited for today’s world and move beyond an outmoded body.  Stelarc, with his Ear on Arm project specifically attacks shortcomings in the human body by presenting the augmented sense that his third ear brings.  Acting as a cybernetic ear, he can move beyond subjective hearing and share that aural experience to listeners around the world.  Commenting on the practicality of the traditional body living in a networked world, Stelarc begins to take into his own hands the design of networked senses.  Orlan uses her surgical art to conceptualize the practice Stelarc is using – saying that body has become a form that can be reconfigured, structured, and applied to suit the desires of the mind within that body.  Carnal Art, as Orland terms it, allows for the body to become a modifiable ready-made instead of a static object born out of the Earth.  Through the use of new technologies human beings are now able to reform selections of their body as they deem necessary and appropriate for their own ventures.

Not far from the surgical work of Orlan and Stelarc we come to Natasha Vita-More’s Electro 2011, Human Enhancement of Life Expansion, a project that acts as a guide for advancing the biological self into a more fit machine.  Integrating emerging technologies to build a more complete human, transhuman, and eventual posthuman body, Vita-More strives for a human-computer interface that will include neurophysiologic and cognitive enhancement that build on longevity and performance.  Included in the enhancement plan we see such technologies as atmospheric sensors, solar protective nanoskin, metabrain error correction, and replaceable genes.  Vita-More’s Primo Posthuman is the idealized application of what artists like Stelarc and Orlan are beginning to explore with their own reconstructive surgical enhancements.

The use of body in the artwork of Nandita Kumar’s Birth of Brain Fly and Suk Kyoung Choi + Mark Nazemi’s Corner Monster reflect on how embodiment and techno-saturation are having psychological effects on the human mind.  In each of their works we travel into the imagined world of the mind, where the notice of self, identity, and sense of place begin to struggle to hold on to fixed points of order.  Kumar talks about her neuroscape continually morphing as it is placed in new conditions and environments that are ever changing.  Beginning with an awareness of ones own constant programming that leads to a new understanding of self through love, the film goes on a journey through the depths of self, ego, and physical limitations.  Kumar’s animations provide an eerie journey through the mind as viewed from the vantage of an artist’s creative eye, all the while postulating an internal neuroscape evolving in accordance with an external electroscape. Corner Monster examines the relationship between self and others in an embodied world.  The installation includes an array of visual stimulation in a dark environment.  As viewers engage with the world before them they are hooked up simultaneously (two at a time) to biofeedback sensors, which measure an array of biodata to be used in the interactive production of the environment before their eyes.  This project surveys the psychological self as it is engrossed by surrounding media, leading to both occasional systems of organized feedback as well as scattered responses that are convolutions of an over stimulated mind.

Marco Donnarumma also integrates a biofeedback system in his work to allow participants to shape musical compositions with their limbs.  By moving a particular body part sounds will be triggered and volume increased depending on the pace of that movement.  Here we see the body acting as brush; literally painting the soundscape through its own creative motion.  As the performer experiments with each portion of their body there is a slow realization that the sounds have become analogous for the neuro and biological yearning of the body, each one seeking a particular upgrade that targets a specific need for that segment of the body.  For instance, a move of the left arm constantly provides a rich vibrato, reminding me of the sound of Vita-More’s solar protective nanoskin.

Our final three artists all use body in their artwork as components of the fabricated results, acting like paint in a traditional artistic sense.  Marie-Pier Malouin weaves strands of hair together to reference genetic predisposal that all living things come out of this world with.  Here, Malouin uses the media to reference suicidal tendencies – looking once again toward the fragility of the human mind, body and spirit as it exists in a traditional biological state.  The hair, a dead mass of growth, which we groom, straighten, smooth, and arrange, resembles the same obsession with which we analyze, evaluate, dissect and anatomize the nature of suicide.  Stan Strembicki also engages with the fragility of the human body in his Body, Soul and Science. In his photographic imagery Strembicki turns a keen eye on the medical industry and its developments over time.  As with all technology, Strembicki concludes the medical industry is one we can see as temporally corrective, gaining dramatic strides as new nascent developments emerge.  Perhaps we can take Tracy Longley-Cook’s skinscapes, which she compares to earth changing landforms of geology, ecology and climatology as an analogy for our changing understanding of skin, body and self.  Can we begin to mold and sculpt the body much like we have done with the land we inhabit?

There is a tie between the conceptual and material strands of these last few works that we cannot overlook: memento mori.  The shortcomings and frailties of our natural bodies – those components that artists like Vita-More, Stelarc, and Orlan are beginning to interpret as being resolved through the mastery of human enhancement and advancement.  In a world churning new technologies and creative ideas it is hard to look toward the future and dismiss the possibilities.  Perhaps the worries of fragility and biological shortcomings will be both posed and answered by the scientific and artistic community, something that is panning out to be very likely, if not certain.  As you browse the work of The Biological Canvas I would like to invite your own imagination to engage.  Look at you life, your culture, your world and draw parallels with the artwork – open your own imaginations to what our future may bring, or, perhaps more properly stated, what we will bring to our future.

Patrick Millard

Source | VASA Project

Lytro Launches to Transform Photography with $50M in Venture Funds (TCTV)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Love photos but utterly bored by wave after waveof iPhone photo sharing apps? Lytro is the company for you. This is also the company for anyone who thinks Silicon Valley has fallen into a rut of innovation-less posing. And it’s the company for anyone who complains that the Valley is more about media and marketing than brass-knuckles, hardcore technology. This is the company that jaded, cranky, rap-lyric quoting investor Ben Horowitz says, “blew my brains to bits.”

In short, Lytro is developing a new type of camera that dramatically changes photography for the first time since the 1800s. Rather than just capturing one plane of light, it captures the entire light field around a picture, all in one shot taken on a single device. A light field includes every beam of light in every direction at every point in time. Experimentation in this field started in the mid-1990s at Stanford with 100 cameras in one room. Lytro’s innovation is making it small enough to fit in your pocket. Really.

As a result you can refocus photos after the fact, wiggle around the orientation, and even show the photos in 3D. Get excited, Jason Kincaid, because it’s not too far away from those 3D moving photographs in the Harry Potter movies. The company has raised $50 million so far from NEAK9 VenturesGreylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz.

Here’s some of what Horowitz wrote on his blog about the company:

“People often refer to taking a picture as capturing the moment, but conventional photography does not really capture the moment. It captures one angle, one set of light, and one focus of the moment. If you are a professional photographer, you might capture the best parts of the moment. If you are someone like me, you most certainly will not. With Ren’s light field camera, you actually capture the moment or at least all of the light that visually represents the moment.

Once you have captured the moment, you can go back at any time and get the picture that you want.

Essentially, you can take the picture you wish you would have taken after the fact. If you are used to the old paradigm, it’s like travelling backwards through time.”

Of course there are big risks with any business this jaw-droppingly innovative. Will they be able to get the price point low enough that people will buy the camera? Right now, the closest Ng will commit on price is somewhere between north of $1 and less than $10,000. That’s a pretty broad ballpark. We won’t be able to see the devices until the also vague “sometime this year.” An equally important question is whether the user experience be as simple as the company claims.

Source | TechCrunch

The Robot Family Portrait Album |

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Kismet, Daguerreotype. 2011

Patrick Millard has taken on the task of creating the first comprehensive robot portrait project.
Using the first ever photographic process, the daguerreotype, he will create a Family Portrait Album so that robots can one day look back upon their ancestral history.
With roboticist Heather Knight consulting on the project, an integral component of human-robotic interaction will be stressed.

Humanity+ @ Parsons The New School For Design, Transhumanism Meets Design

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Patrick Millard | Formatting Gaia + Embodiment

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Predicting future appearance

Monday, March 14th, 2011

A computer program that ages photographic images of people’s faces has been developed by Concordia University’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering.

Most face-aged images are currently rendered by forensic artists. Although these artists are trained in the anatomy and geometry of faces, they rely on art rather than science.

“We pioneered a novel technique that combines two previous approaches, known as active appearance models (AAMs) and support vector regression (SVR),” says Khoa Luu, a PhD candidate.

Luu used a combination of AAMs and SVR methods to interpret faces and to “teach” aging rules to the computer. Then, he input information from a database of facial characteristics of siblings and parents taken over an extended period. Using this data, the computer can predict an individual’s facial appearance at a future period.

According to Luu, this technology could serve as a new tool in missing-child investigations and matters of national security — an advance that could help to identify missing kids and criminals on the lam.

Luu’s work appears in the volume series Lecture Notes in Computer Science.

Source | Concordia University

Technology 25 Years Hence

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

“The law of accelerating returns is the only reliable method I know that allows us to forecast at least certain aspects of the future,” said Ray Kurzweil in “Why Do We Need Predictions?,” a New York Times special feature published Monday.

“A computer that fit inside a building when I was a student now fits in my pocket, and is a thousand times more powerful despite being a million times less expensive. In another quarter century, that capability will fit inside a red blood cell and will again be a billion times more powerful per dollar.”

Source | Kurzweil AI

An Odyssey Through the Brain

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

SHOWER OF COLORS Carl Schoonover, 27, who is midway through a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at Columbia, decided to draw the general reader into his subject with the sheer beauty of its images in “Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century,” newly published by Abrams.

Who has seen the mind? Neither you nor I — nor any of the legions of neuroscientists bent on opening the secrets of that invisible force, as powerful and erratic as the wind.

The experts are definitely getting closer: the last few decades have produced an explosion of new techniques for probing the blobby, unprepossessing brain in search of the thinking, feeling, suffering, scheming mind.

But the field remains technologically complicated, out of reach for the average nonscientist, and still defined by research so basic that the human connection, the usual “hook” by which abstruse science captures general interest, is often missing.

Carl Schoonover took this all as a challenge. Mr. Schoonover, 27, is midway through a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at Columbia, and thought he would try to find a different hook. He decided to draw the general reader into his subject with the sheer beauty of its images.

So he has compiled them into a glossy new art book. “Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain From Antiquity to the 21st Century,” newly published by Abrams, includes short essays by prominent neuroscientists and long captions by Mr. Schoonover — but its words take second place to the gorgeous imagery, from the first delicate depictions of neurons sketched in prim Victorian black and white to the giant Technicolor splashes the same structures make across 21st-century LED screens.

Scientists are routinely seduced by beauty. Mr. Schoonover knows this firsthand, as he acknowledged in an interview: for a while his wallet held snapshots not of friends or family, but of particularly attractive neurons. Sometimes the aesthetics of the image itself captivate. Sometimes the thrill is the magic of a dead-on fabulous technique for getting at elusive data.

Consider, for instance, a blurry little black-and-white photograph of a smiley-face icon, so fuzzy and ill-defined it looks like a parody of the Shroud of Turin. The picture is actually a miracle in its own right: the high-speed video camera that shot it was trained on the exposed brain of a monkey staring at a yellow smiley face. As the monkey looked at the face, blood vessels supplying nerve cells in the visual part of the monkey’s brain transiently swelled in exactly the same pattern. We can tell what was on the monkey’s mind by inspecting its brain. The picture forms a link, primitive but palpable, between corporeal and evanescent, between the body and the spirit. And behind the photo stretches a long history of inspired neuroscientific deductions and equally inspired mistakes, all aiming to illuminate just that link.

It’s only fitting that the story should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so irredeemably ugly that they assumed the mind was elsewhere.

Aristotle, for example, concluded that the brain’s moist coils served only to cool the heart, the obvious home of the rational soul. The anatomist Galen pointed out that all nerves led to the brain, but medieval philosophers figured that most of the important things happened within the elegantly curved fluid-filled ventricles deep inside.

Only when the long ban on dissection petered out in the Renaissance did the ventricles prove to be so much empty space — poke the brain around a little, and they collapse and disappear. The gelatinous brain moved into the spotlight, as resistant to study as a giant mass of tightly packed cold spaghetti.

The challenge was twofold: what did that neural pasta really look like, and how did it do what it did?

In 1873 the Italian scientist Camillo Golgi developed a black stain to highlight the micron-thin neural strands. Fifteen years later the Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, deploying the stain with virtuoso dexterity, presented the world for the first time with visible populations of individual neurons, looking for all the world like burnt scrub brush in a postapocalyptic Dalí landscape. The roots, or dendrites, of these elongated nerve cells gather information. The trunks, or axons, transmit it.

Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules. The most dramatic variation on these methods for highlighting neurons in living color, dubbed the Brainbow by its inventors, turns the brains of living mice into wild neon forests of branching trees.

The electrochemical circuitry that propels information around that forest, from nerve to nerve, has generated its own fabulous images.

One team of researchers harnessed the rabies virus, which has the unusual ability to travel upstream against the neural current. The virus moves from a leg bitten by a rabid dog up the long axons leading to the spinal cord, then jumps to dendrites of other nerves and travels up to the brain, where it causes horrific damage. Modifying the virus by a few genes and inserting it in mice, the researchers captured its path in a photograph, highlighting the long axon of the first nerve in brilliant magenta and then the tangle of dendrites of communicating nerves in yellow.

Meanwhile, the traffic in long groups of neurons all coursing together around the brain becomes visible with a variation on the standard scanning technique called diffusion M.R.I. Here the neurons do look just like pasta — angel hair, perhaps — slightly beaded, draped and purposeful. But if the structure is destroyed (by a stroke, for instance) the strands shatter into fragments, the information highway broken, upended as if by an earthquake.

In the book’s final essay, Joy Hirsch, a neuroimaging specialist at Columbia, sympathizes with readers who hate the idea that they — their essential selves, their likes and dislikes, their premonitions, biases and life decisions — are nothing but neural circuits.

“These cells and molecules, awash in various neurochemical cocktails in my basal ganglia, are presumably the basis for my love and attachment to my husband,” she writes. “Earlier in my academic journey I would have resisted this unavoidable fact of biology on the misguided rounds that a physical basis would diminish the grandeur and centrality of my choice of a life partner.”

Now, however, Dr. Hirsch says she joyfully embraces “the astonishing unity of the physical brain and the mind” for the potential it clearly holds for improving the lot of humankind. And furthermore, she doesn’t see that anyone has much choice about accepting it.

“People assumed for thousands of years that there must be something else,” the science writer Jonah Lehrer writes in the introduction. “And yet, there is nothing else: this is all we are.”

Source | New York Times

A $1.50 Lens-Free Microscope

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Using a $1.50 digital camera sensor, scientists at Caltech have created the simplest and cheapest lens-free microscope yet. Such a device could have many applications, including helping diagnose disease in the developing world, and enabling rapid screening of new drugs.

The best current way to diagnose malaria is for a skilled technician to examine blood samples using a conventional optical microscope. But this is impractical in parts of the world where malaria is common. A simple lens-free imaging device connected to a smart phone or a PDA could automatically diagnose disease. A lensless microscope could also be used for rapid cancer or drug screening, with dozens or hundreds of microscopes working simultaneously.

The Caltech device is remarkably simple. A system of microscopic channels called microfluidics lead a sample across the light-sensing chip, which snaps images in rapid succession as the sample passes across. Unlike previous iterations, there are no other parts. Earlier versions featured pinhole apertures and an electrokinetic drive for moving cells in a fixed orientation with an electric field. In the new device, this complexity is eliminated thanks to a clever design and more sophisticated software algorithms. Samples flow through the channel because of a tiny difference in pressure from one end of the chip to the other. The device’s makers call it a subpixel resolving optofluidic microscope, or SROFM.

“The advantage here is that it’s simpler than their previous approaches,” says David Erickson, a microfluidics expert at Cornell University.

Cells tend to roll end over end as they pass through a microfluidic channel. The new device uses this behavior to its advantage by capturing images and producing a video. By imaging a cell from every angle, a clinician can determine its volume, which can be useful when looking for cancer cells, for example. Changhuei Yang, who leads the lab where the microscope was developed, says this means samples, such as blood, do not have to be prepared on slides beforehand.

The current resolution of the SROFM is 0.75 microns, which is comparable to a light microscope at 20 times magnification, says Guoan Zheng, lead author of a recent paper on the work, published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

The sensor has pixels that are 3.2 microns on each side. A “super resolution” algorithm assembles multiple images (50 for each high-resolution image) to create an enhanced resolution image–as if the screen had pixels 0.32 microns in size. However, super-resolution techniques can only distinguish features that are separated by at least one pixel, meaning the final resolution must be at least twice the pixel size. This is why a .32 micron pixel size yields only a resolution of .75 microns.

Zheng’s technique uses only a small portion of the chip, allowing him to capture cells at a relatively high frame rate of 300 frames per second. This yields a super-resolution “movie” of a cells at six frames per second.

Using a higher-resolution CMOS sensor should allow an even better ultimate resolution, says Seung Ah Lee, another collaborator on the project. Lee wants to get the resolution up to the equivalent of 40x magnification, so that the technique can be used for diagnosis of malaria via automated recognition of abnormal blood cells.

Aydogan Ozcan, a professor at UCLA who is developing a competing approach, says that Zheng’s work is “a valuable advance for optofluidic microscopy,” in that this system is simpler, offers higher resolution, and is easier to use than previous microscopes. However, Ozcan says that the technique has limitations.

The microfluidic channel must be quite small, says Ozcan, which means the approach can’t be applied to particles that might vary greatly in size, and the channel must be built to accommodate the largest particle that might flow through it. Ozcan’s own lensless microscope does not use microfluidic channels, and instead captures a “hologram” of the sample by interpreting the interference pattern of an LED lamp shining through it. This method has no such limitations.

“From my perspective, these are complementary approaches,” says Ozcan, whose ultimate aim is cheap, cell-phone based medical diagnostic tools for the developing world.

Source | Technology Review

Turning Into Gods, Jason Silva

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

AIR: Biosphere 2

Friday, June 11th, 2010

We are as gods and might as well get good at it” -Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Catalog

Biosphere 2 is a unique build – there is no other like it.  With the ability to be completely sealed, sustain life within for extended periods of time, perform as a laboratory and place for field work, and provide thousands of tourists each year with tremendous mystery and intrigue it stands as a symbol of modern human engineering and perseverance.  While the original plans for B2 did not come to fruition it has found a stable life and been born again as an optimal utility for science and discovery.  The University of Arizona now operates and manages the biosphere – running multiple scientific studies within its one of a kind environment.

The Biosphere 2 marriage between nature and technology is what first attracted me to the location as an artist.  The structure is the ultimate expression of a natural environment while simultaneously being enclosed and controlled by the hand of man.  It is no wonder one of the original biospherians called the enclosed environment “the Garden of Eden atop an aircraft carrier” (Roy Walford).  The energy it takes to moderate the rain, temperature, humidity, waves, air, etc. is enormous.  It is the ultimate conundrum: a natural world only living because of the unnatural energies giving it life.









AIR: Biosphere 2

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

vvc_lungs1.jpgThe first week of my residency has been filled predominantly with research about both the historic and contemporary uses of Biosphere 2.  With a comprehensive understanding of my subject matter in mind I have taken about 8 tours through the B2 environment in the 5 days I have been here.  By weeks end I will have completed tours with all 12 of the guides on staff.  Each time I step through the doorway from the kitchen area into the upper savannah that overlooks the ocean  I am in for a different experience that yields new information and background on the facility without fail.  Each tour guide has their own unique way of telling the deep, rich story behind B2, and after 8 tours to date I am not the least bit tentative about going on 4 more tours.  Rather, I am excited to hear what the guides I have yet to meet will offer me.  (B2 Guides: Lynn Brooks, Marsha Colbert, Judy Freeman, Claudio Gilardini, Bob Hastings, Zak Kelly, Victor Lim, Bob Sherman, Nancy Thrail, Norm Trezek, Steve Wigard, and Bill Young).

In addition to my tours I have also read Jane Poynter‘s book “The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2“.  This read was a great addition to what I have been learning in the tours.  Jane provides a first hand account of what was going on inside the B2 environment during that first mission not only from an empirical/scientific vantage but also one of anthropological/psychological value.  She tells stories and gives detail of the interpersonal relationships of the 8 biospherians that are rarely mentioned on the tours given now.  Jane was one of the 4 female inhabitants of the first B2 mission and a member of the 4 that would be considered the “outsiders” once the 8 individuals drew lines in the sand between one another.

My research has not only been the interior operations of B2 but also the history of the land it rests upon, the solar energy panels that have recently been installed, the test modules used to iron out problems before the official biosphere was built, the lineage that has past through the land (starting with Mr. Lackner M.D. in the 1920s and followed by: Lady Margaret of Suffolk in the 1950s, Motorola Company in the 1970s, Space Biospheres Venture in the 1980, Columbia University in the 1990s and now the University of Arizona since 2007.)

I have had exquisite pleasure roaming around this 34.5 acre campus that is Biosphere 2.  My evening ventures as the sun sets upon the desert take me through test modules, research facilities, living quarters, quarantine rooms, greenhouses, solar panel installs, homesteads of Lady Margaret and Mr. Lackner, cafes, and conference rooms, all of which have been abandoned since they were once used by Motorola, SBV and Columbia University.  Walking through the analytical laboratory filled me with a strange sensation; as though I were stepping through the empty footsteps of a once bustling scientific endeavor that resulted in B2.  I could visualize the biospherians and accompanying scientists preparing and testing samples, choosing the species that they would put into B2 (3,000), and deciding the proper balance of the soils that would go into each biome (30, 000 lbs.) among many other vital components that made B2 possible.

This initial phase of research and exploration has been a thrilling introduction to the activities that have and are happening here.  The scientific discoveries that I have made in as little as 5 days will no doubt have an impact on my work both now and in the future.  I will soon begin my work here in depth.  After Tuesday I will have completed my 11th tour, with one remaining on Friday, and will feel appropriately versed on my subject matter.

My plans for the sound piece will be to scrutinize each biome with a fine toothed comb.  I want to convey the essence of this great technological accomplishment and simultaneous natural environment.  The sound work will then be split into different tracks, something like this:

1. Introduction
2. Savannah
3. Marsh
4. Fog Desert
5. Ocean
6. Technosphere
7. South Lung [Variable Volume Chamber]
8. Rain Forest

I plan to use an abundance of samples taken from inside and around Biosphere 2 and infuse ambient/generative sounds to add a mystical feeling that echoes the great awe that this amazing accomplishment strikes those who visit.

Along with the work on this sound portfolio I will be continually making photographs of the environment.  I have also discovered a collection of 2000 ml. flasks which house a variety of biospheres collected in the early 1980s.  This valuable collection made by Elizabeth Kearns [Univ. of Hawaii] inspires me to not only photograph the collection as documentary work for a series called ‘biospherics‘ but also to create my own biospheres in similar flasks.

AIR: Biosphere 2

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

For the month of June I am the artist in residence at Biosphere 2 in Oracle, AZ.  My time here will be spent working not only on some ongoing projects (ie: Digital Bodies, Formatting Gaia, and Cryonics), but also developing portfolios specific to Biosphere 2.  My proposal for the residency included three portfolios created with three different media.  I plan to create a photographic portfolio that emphasizes the relationship between synthetic and organic entities that is a distinct characteristic of Biosphere 2, a sound project that does much of the same and what I am calling a new media piece; a virtual reconstruction of the B2 campus inside a virtual environment hosted by the likes of Second Life of OpenSim.

That was the plan, anyway.  Since my arrival I have realized that one photographic portfolio was obviously going to be hard to limit myself to.  There is much to see here – and as a result there is much to talk about through my work.  I have also realized the residency could yield some installation work, but I’ll leave that for when the time comes.  What I am trying to say is that I am open to new ideas and projects as they come to me.  As I explore and learn more details about the rich history, scientific value and future uses of Biosphere 2 and builds like it I find that inspiration comes faster than I can keep up with it.  With that said, this experience is proving to be a thoroughly enjoyable one.

Biosphere 2 Brief History

In order to understand the B2 clearly it is important to familiarize yourself with the concept of ‘biosphere’ (bio meaning life, sphere meaning circle).  This term, first coined by geologist Eduard Suess in 1885, was later elaborated upon by Russian mineralogist and geochemist Vladamir Vernadsky.  One day in the early to mid 1920s Vernadsky was walking along the beach by his home.  On his walk he enclosed some water, sand, and other oceanic material one would find along the shoreline in a bottle he happened to have with him.  Upon arriving home he placed this bottle on a shelf and subsequently forgot about it for 6 months.  When he stumbled upon the bottle again after all those months he was alarmed to discover that life was still occurring inside this sealed environment.  He published his book The Biosphere in 1926.

Decades later Claire Folsome was teaching and researching Vernadsky’s studies at the University of Hawaii.  Inspired by his reasearch was John Allen, the man who would later go on to develop IE (Institute of Ecotechnics), October Gallery, R.V. Heraclitus,  Synergia Ranch, and The Caravan of Dreams among other locations around the world that were used as training, learning, and spiritual grounds for the many who were involved with a group that Allen was known for leading.  The biospheric sciences that Allen practiced and thought about based on Folsome’s research were the beginning of what would become Biosphere 2.

After copious research and training by the many individuals involved with the project they went to the Arizonan Sonora Desert in 1984 to begin designing and constructing the 3.14 acre hermetically sealed structure.  By 1987, after years of planning, the Space Biospheres Venture (SBF) broke ground on what would become the world’s largest sealed environment as well as a test structure for one day colonizing Mars and other bodies in Space.  Ed Bass, in contact with the group who worked together at Synergia Ranch, the Heraclitus and at IE just happened to have received the inheritance of his family’s oil billions and became  the man privately financing the project.  While the original estimates of 30 million given by Allen was interpreted by Bass as likely to be closer to 90 million, he did not expect the final cost of 200-250 million at the time.

Despite costs, the B2 environment was designed, built, tested, and sealed.  On September 26, 1991 the 8 biospherians walked through the hatch and sealed it behind them.  They were to remain sealed inside for two years and twenty minutes.

B2 Facts

The total size, including both lungs, is 3.15 acres above ground.  The Techno-sphere housing the machinery support systems for air, water and electricity covers an additional 2 acres underground.

The space-frame construction is made up of close to 6,500 strong panes of glass (250 lbs. each) supported by a white, protectively coated steel skeleton comprised of roughly 77,000 struts.

The Biosphere sits upon a base of 20 inches of concrete with a 500 ton 1/8″ steel plate in the middle.  This base, along with the silicon seal on the glass panes, created a closed system with only 8% air leak per year (less than space shuttles of its time).

The ocean contains roughly 750, 000 gallons of water (the ocean can hold 1 million gallons).   When in development the first 100,000 gallons were brought in by milk trucks from San Diego.  Once the initial 100,000 was added another 700,000 or so gallons of fresh water were added over time.  They used a chemical called Instant Ocean to maintain proper saline balance.

The “lungs” (built by William “Freddy” Dempster) of the Biosphere (Variable Volumetric Air Chambers) were added to prevent catastrophe as a result of the heating and cooling of air as the sun would rise and set over the 6, 500 panes of glass.  When the sun would rise in the morning and the air heated and expanded it would travel through a tunnel and into the lung.  There a 16 ton steel plate suspended by a 4 ton neoprene roof that would allow for the plate to rise and fall as air commanded it.  When the air was hot and began to expand it would fill the lung.  When the air cooled the 20 ton pressure would push the air from the lung back into the B2 environment.  This critical component of the design prevented the sealed environment from exploding and imploding as air temperature changed.