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Bellevue University Algae Research Inspires NYC Art Installation

You may see the arts and the sciences as polar opposites, however the two fields often overlap by exchanging ideas and inspiring curiosity on both sides of the spectrum.  

One example of this is the recent work by Tim Parsons and Jess Charlesworth, who are a Chicago-based artist couple (Parsons & Charlesworth), that designed and build the ‘Algae Kin-Gatherer’ which was on display at DEMO23 on Pier17 in New York this past month.

DEMO23 is a new festival created by NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator for art, design, and technology.   Tim and Jess are design artists that care deeply about, and are inspired by, broad science topics related to climate change and the ongoing extinctions of species. Since earlier this year, they have been discussing various topics of art and science overlap with Professors David Thomas and John Kyndt at Bellevue University, particularly related to understanding the concept of algae cultivation and algal biology. These discussions challenged both artists and scientists to understand more about how algae sense and interact with their environment. This gave rise to the artists design of a device that is intended to enhance the sensory-based interaction with algae in their natural environment.

“The Algae Kin-Gatherer, is the inaugural sculptural piece from our ongoing climate fiction project, Multispecies Inc. This artwork is an example of a new object typology we are exploring – the kin-gatherer – which we see as a tool for extreme empathy that goes beyond data-collection to attempt a more visceral connection with the “umwelt” of other species.”-explain Tim and Jess.  

The Algae Kin-Gatherer comprises a raft and accessories that allow users to “make kin with algae” and gain a profound understanding of their world. It involves floating face-down on water, attracting and observing algae, feeding them with exhaled CO2, and breathing in the oxygen they produce. The artwork is accompanied by an audio story, accessible here.

To learn more about the Algae Kin-Gatherer, you can:

  • Watch Tim and Jess 7-minute talk from the Creative Science day at the NEW INC DEMO2023 Festival.
  • Listen to The Algae Kin-Gatherer. audio story here.
  • Explore Multispecies Inc: Volume 1 for a deeper understanding of the overall project’s concept and vision.  

Besides the resulting art work, algal samples that were collected from the NY East River are now forming the basis for further student research and DNA sequencing at the BU science labs. “By doing genome sequencing on the samples from the NY East River we can get a better understanding of what species are present and how these interact with each other, and whether or not they can give rise to algal blooms”, says Dr. John Kyndt.

Tim and Jess are looking forward to continuing their collaborations with BU scientist and artist as part of next years ART+SCIENCE incubator project at Bellevue University.

- by John Kyndt

This story was originally published on Science on Display, a blog published by the Bellevue University Natural Science Center of Excellence. 

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