Feedback Exhibit Merges Ecological Tech and Art

Located in Chelsea, Manhattan's Eyebeam is an art and technology center that offers fellows and artists funding and studio space. Its new exhibit in its massive warehouse space, "Planet in Peril: Artists Sow Solutions," highlights creative sustainability solutions with 19 projects, including public art, industrial design, and various DIY solutions. A friend and I attended the opening last Thursday, mingling with about 400 other visitors in a crowd that was full of young, hip art-crawlers. While the environmentally friendly lighting may have been dim (the name of the installations were even lit with flashlights the gallery's opening-night mood was bright.
A revolving door made by Fluxxlab stands on a platform by the entrance. But this is no regular entry or revolving door. When visitors walk through it, the door harnesses the energy created by the door's movement to power a sign that lights up as people pass through. The exhibit is clearly as simple as they come, yet is also sort of mind-blowing, considering that it stands in the middle of New York City, with its astronomical number of revolving doors, each one a potential source of untapped energy.

A few steps after Fluxxlab's door, the next installation that caught my eye was also visually simple. Fred Benenson's Committee Caller installation consists of three red phones on top of a table. The phones are connected to a web application that determines which congressional committee the caller should contact for various environmental issues and then dials the number. Since it was after Congressional work hours though, I turned to the next installation, which had a large vat of nearly 100 squirmy tadpoles.

Natalie Jeremijenko's tadpole and Environmental Health Clinic was an interesting, if a bit puzzling, spectacle. Dr. Jeremijenko is holding walk-in appointments at the "Environmental Health Clinic for the Ecologically Unwell" the next two Saturdays over the course of the exhibit. Each tadpole is named for a government official who has the power to influence water quality legislation. "Impatients" as Jerimijenko dubs the exhibit's visitors--that is, people who cannot stand waiting any longer for clean water-- select a tadpole to bring home and adopt.

Tadpoles are good bioindicators of responses to pollutants. So each little government official's proxy tadpole will be testing out how well our current water legislation is doing in whatever adoptive aquatic habitat it ends up in. The idea (I think) is that by showing water legislator tadpoles swimming in the product of their own legislation, the exhibit demonstrates the vested interest we all have in clean water. After the tadpole bureaucrats are nurtured into becoming American bullfrogs--a process that can take 3 years--they will be released into suitable urban/natural settings. Interested and "Impatient" New Yorkers should stop by the Environmental Health Clinic on March 15 or 29 to learn more.

A crowd favorite, Rebecca Bray and Britta Riley's exploration of the positive potential in urine, explored earlier on Treehugger, the "drinkpeedrinkpeedrinkpee" installation demonstrates a way of treating urine so that, instead of polluting our waterways with algal blooms, our high nitrogen, high phosphorus liquid waste can be used to provide plant nutrients. One of the most eye-catching of Eyebeam's installations, the exhibit includes a toilet, several feet of red tubing, an aquarium, and pots of a pale yellow liquid that appears to be urine. People commented aloud on what the plastic cylinder of "pee" hanging by a tube near the toilet could actually be. Because of a safety concern about having a urine spill in the gallery, the artists could not use the real thing, but in a future iteration of the project, they hope to be able to connect a port-a-potty to the installation and use real pee.

On the back wall were a series of projects from the 2007 Eyebeam eco-visualization challenge. "Foray" had an installation on dumpster diving that included a basket of bagels affixed to the wall. My hungry friend bit into one before reading that it had come from a dumpster. She was a bit taken aback upon discovering her snack's origin, but then admitted it was indeed a perfectly fine, fresh bagel. Foray organizes expeditions to recover the entirely good food thrown out every day by New York City bakeries and groceries. A passing freegan told my rather appalled friend that he had survived on dumpster fare for a year! The installation included a bunch of Foray stickers to be slapped on garbage bags of edibles as a way of alerting foragers to free food.

This is just a taste of the 19 installations. New Yorkers and visitors can check out Eyebeam, Tuesdays through Saturdays from now until April 19 at 540 West 21st Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. On April 19 the project culminates with an Action Day focusing on toxic tours and urban gardening. Leah Gauthier will lead a Sow-In, during which participants will distribute seed pots to New York City community gardens for transplant and seed saving. Brooke Singer will lead tours of contaminated sites in Brooklyn with the assistance of a toxicologist who studies the legacy of industrial areas within New York City that are not classified by the EPA, but are sometimes more toxic than the Superfund sites Singer documents in her website Supferfund 365, A Site-A-Day. Finally, Preemptive Media's AIR devices will also be available for check-out on Saturdays during the exhibition.

Tags: Architecture | Lighting | Renewable Energy