Categoriearchief: Ecology

The branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

Plastic Plankton

‘Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.’ – Andy Warhol


A “floating landfill, made up of plastic particles is swirling in a convergence zone about 30 to 40 degrees north latitude and 135 to 145 west longitude. It’s about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands — a week’s journey by boat from the nearest port. The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. While the plastic trash floats along, instead of biodegrading, it is “photodegrading,” — the sun’s UV rays turn the bottle brittle, much like they would crack the vinyl on a car roof. They break down the bottle into small pieces and, in some cases, into particles as fine as dust.

Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris — which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas — is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean. Also, it’s undetectable by overhead satellite photos because it’s 80 percent plastic and therefore translucent. The plastic moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, according to samples Moore collected on the most recent trip. (1)


Ironically, the debris is re-entering the oceans whence it came; the ancient plankton that once floated on Earth’s primordial sea gave rise to the petroleum now being transformed into plastic polymers. That exhumed life, our “civilized plankton,” is, in effect, competing with its natural counterparts, as well as with those life-forms that directly or indirectly feed on them. Inside the North Pacific Gyre the natural plankton is outnumbered 6 to 1 in favor of the plastic plankton. The large ratio of plastic to plankton found in this study has the potential to affect many types of biota. Most susceptible are the birds and filter feeders that focus their feeding activities on the upper portion of the water column. Many birds have been examined and found to contain small debris in their stomachs, a result of their mistaking plastic for food


Worldwide, 82 of 144 bird species examined contained small debris in their stomachs, and in many species the incidence of ingestion exceeds 80% of the individuals.

The scale of the phenomenon is astounding. Plastic debris in now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans. Because 40 percent of the oceans are classified as subtropical gyres, a fourth of the planet’s surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris. What can be done with this new class of products made specifically to defeat natural recycling? How can the dictum “In ecosystems, everything is used” be made to work with plastic? (2)

plastic land

(1) Based on a text by Justin Berton / San Francisco Chronicle
(2) Based on a text by Charles Moore

Paleontologic Time Travel

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

La Brea Tar pits

La Brea Tar pits2

Rancho La Brea is one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Radiometric dating of preserved wood and bones has given an age of 38,000 years for the oldest known material from the La Brea seeps, and they are still ensnaring organisms today.

The Page Museum is located next to the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles. Through windows at the Page Museum Laboratory, visitors can watch bones being cleaned and repaired. Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured.


Sculs of the saber-toothed cat, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

La Brea Tar pits lab

La Brea Tar Pits lab, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

The collections document the Rancho La Brea biota and include some 3.5 million specimens representing over 600 species of animals and plants. The site-specific collections also include geological samples, archaeological artifacts and historical objects. The Tar Pits function as black wormholes where the past gets mingled with the future. Every day object from the past come up and new once from the present disappear inside the pits to be discovered by the next generation archaeologists. Every sample will be washed and cleaned and puzzled back together again in order to understand the future past.



future tar pits



future tar pits2

Coral Crocheting

Christine and Margaret Wertheim
“Crochet Coral and Anemone Garden” with sea slug by Marianne Midelburg.
Photos by Alyssa Gorelick.


The Institute For Figuring is crocheting a coral reef: a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.

One of the acknowledged wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches along the coast of Queensland like a psychadelic serpent, a riotous profusion of color and form unparalleled on our planet. But global warming and pollutants so threaten this fragile monster that scientists now believe the reef will be devastated in coming years. As a homage to the Great One, IFF co-directors Margaret and Christine Wertheim – who grew up in Queensland – have instigated a project to crochet a woolen reef. Using the techniques of hyperbolic crochet discovered by mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina in 1997, the Institute has been evolving a wide taxonomy of reef-life forms – loopy “kelps”, fringed “anemones”, and curlicued “corals.” While the process that brings these models into being is algorithmic, endless permutations of the underlying formulae result in a constantly surprising panoply of shapes. The quality of yarn, style of stitch and tightness of the crochet all affect the finished model so that each is as individual as a living organism. As a whole, the Crochet Reef is made up of various different “sub-reefs,” each with its own colors and styling: there is the Red Reef, the Blue Reef, the Bleached Reef, the Branched Anemone Garden, and our largest work, The Ladies’ Silurian Atoll, a ring-shaped installation with close to 1000 individual crochet forms made by dozens of contributors from around the world. In addition to these woolen sub-reefs is the massive Toxic Reef, crocheted from yarn and plastic trash.


Industrial Gardening

Hofkes (little gardens), 1967



Hofkens  is a collection of three samples (cut outs) of industrial gardens containing only artificial materials. Nature is being reconstructed without any natural materials. The title refers to the small city-gardens people use to grow vegetables and herbs. The work is currently being restored in SMAK, the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent.


Interactive Plant Growing

Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau
Interactive Plant Growing, 1993-97

Interactive Plant Growing
in permanent collection of the ZKM Media Museum, Karlsruhe

Interactive Plant Growing2

Interactive Plant Growing3

Conceptual and aesthetic aspects :

“The rate of growth deserves to be studied as a necessary preliminary to the theoretical study of form, and organic form itself is found, mathematically speaking, to be a function of time. (….) We might call the form of an organism an event in space-time, and not merely a configuration in space.” (D´Arcy Thompson,On Growth and Form, Cambridge University Press,1942.)

“Interactive Plant Growing” is an installation, which deals with the principle of the growth of virtual plant organisms and their change and modification in real time in the 3-dimensional virtual space of a 4D Graphics Computer (Silicon Graphics). These modifications of predefined “artificially living plant organisms” are mainly based on the principle of development and evolution in time. The artificial growing of program – based plants is an expression of the desire to discover the principle of life, which is always defined by the transformations and morphogenesis of certain organisms.

Interactive Plant Growing connects the real time growing of virtual plants in the 3 – dimensional space of the computer to real living plants, which can be touched or approached by human viewers.differentiation.

1 ) Interaction Human – Plant :

By touching real plants or moving their hands towards them human viewers can influence and control in real time the virtual growth of 25 and more program – based plants, which are simultaneously displayed on a video screen in front of the viewers. By producing a sensitive interaction with the real plants, the viewers too become part of the installation. They decide how this interaction is translated to the screen and how growth takes place on the screen.

The various distance modulations of the viewer´s hands directly effect the appearance of the virtual plants, as they are ferns, mosses, trees, vines and a cleaning plant (“killer plant”).

By sending different data values to the interface (which connects the plants and the growing program), the appearance of the virtual plants can be modified and varied . The viewers can control the size of the virtual plants, direct the rotation, modify the appearance, change the colours and control new positions for the same type of plant.

Each virtual plant species has at least 6 different variations, but generally there are more possibilities than just 25 variations of 5 plants, since the size, colour and translation can be modified for each single plant as well.

All variations ultimately depend on the viewers sensibility to find the different levels of approximation distances, as they are responsible for the different events in growing.

Since it takes some time for the viewer to discover the different levels for modulating and building the virtual plants, he will develop a higher sensitivity and awareness for real plants.

2) Programming :

In Interactive Plant Growing artificial plants, programmed by Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer on Silicon Graphics Computer, grow in a virtual 3 – dimensional space.

This virtual growing is based on specially developed algorithms, according to the different morphological characteristics of real plant differentiation.

Virtual growing is not based on the same principles as real growing, rather the appearance of movement and differentiation and determination during this evolutionary process can be considered to be optically similar.

In the program a new method of differentiation was developed, using special randomising parameters, which are seen as “artificial growth and differentiation regulators”.

These randomising parameters determine the morphology of the organisms by controlling their variations of forms.

This leads us to different botanical growth forms. Plants like ferns, vine or mosses change their appearance depending on the randomising defined variables for size, length, rotation, translation, angle and colour.

This idea of advanced randomising could be compared with the term “walking randomising”.

The limits of randomising could be considered as determination, whereas the human – plant randomising itself can be representative for the differentiation.

3 ) Technique :

Technically speaking, the electrical potential difference between human and plant gets measured through the living plants.

This voltage difference varies depending on the hand – plant distance, the sensitivity of the plant ranges from 0 to about 70 cm in space, depending on the size and morphology of the real plant.

A special protocol (interface program) between computer and converter makes sure, that each data value coming from each plant is interpreted in synchronisation and in real time by means of the growing program during the drawing of the virtual plants.

All data values (derived from the interaction viewer – plant) are now interpreted as variables in the growing program. Each value is responsible for specific growing events; changing rotation, scaling, translation, location or colour.

4 ) Installation space :

In the dark 12 x 6 meter installation space, five different real plants are placed on 5 wooden columns in front of a high resolution 4 x 3 meter video projection screen. All plants are connected by an interface to a 4D Silicon Graphics computer, which sends its video signals from the screen to a high resolution RGB video data beamer 80 kHz , 650 Lux. This data beamer sends the growing pictures to the projection screen in real time.

5 ) Feedback :

By the feedback of the virtual growth on the screen, the viewers can react to these events and control and modify the growing process. Five or more people can interact at the same time with the 5 real plants in the installation space. All events depend exclusively on the human-plant interaction.

“Interactive Plant Growing” (c) 92-97, Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau

Simon said: Modernism

Simon Starling

The British artist Simon Starling refers to objects or individuals in his projects, which embody the possibilities and ideas of Modernism. Based on extensive research, he elucidates the meaning of the vocabulary of Modernism, as well as the structures, on which this myth is based. By transforming auratically charged objects, reconstructing them or transferring them to different contexts and materials, he questions their original intentions and conditions. In this, unlike the avant-garde that focused on a break with history, his new definitions stress the continuation of history and its variations.

Simon Starling

Rescued Rhododendrons
, 2000, Filmstill

Playing with contextual shifts also characterizes Starling’s project “Rescued Rhododendrons”, in which a historical development is reversed, and which Simon Starling shows as a video installation in the gallery of Secession. The video work deals with returning the plant “Rhododendron ponticum” to its original site. Imported from the south of Spain to the north of Scotland in the mid-18th century, it is considered a weed there today. In the course of an announcement for a sculpture project in the
Scottish landscape, Simon Starling learned that the rhododendrons were to be uprooted and destroyed, so that they would not alter the original heathland ecosystem. Starling counteracted this plan and set out with the plants – in a red Volvo 240 Estate as transportation – on a rescue mission to return them to their original homeland.

Industrial Melanism

peppered moth
Peppered moth (Biston betularia) on a birch tree.

The evolution of the peppered moth over the last two hundred years has been studied in detail. Originally, the vast majority of peppered moths had light coloration, which effectively camouflaged them against the light-colored trees and lichens which they rested upon. However, due to widespread pollution during the Industrial Revolution in England, many of the lichens died out, and the trees which peppered moths rested on became blackened by soot, causing most of the light-colored moths, or typica, to die off due to predation. At the same time, the dark-colored, or melanic, moths, carbonaria, flourished because of their ability to hide on the darkened trees.

Since then, with improved environmental standards, light-colored peppered moths have again become common, but the dramatic change in the peppered moth’s population has remained a subject of much interest and study, and has led to the coining of the term “industrial melanism” to refer to the genetic darkening of species in response to pollutants.

Melanism is the opposite of albinism and occurs naturally with about the same frequency. The genetic basis is not clearly understood, but inbreeding is considered partially responsible.

In the photos below, a pale form (typica) and a dark form (carbonaria) rest side-by-side on an unpolluted lichen covered trunk in Dorset (above), and a soot-covered trunk near Birmingham. (From HBD Kettlewell, 1956, Heredity 10: 300).

biston carbonaria

biston carbonaria 2

Computer Modelling to Influence Public Opinion


Dr. Chris Evans
Science Fact, 1977

‘Anyone who doubts the potential of computer modeling to influence public opinion and action should remember that the whole of the modern surge to ‘ecology’ and the rejection of thow away capitalism arose because of the first large-scale computer simulations – the warning of the Club of Rome that continued profligacy with natural recources would lead to the destruction of modern society’.

The Club of Rome is a global think tank and centre of innovation and initiative.
As a non-profit, non govermental organisation (NGO), it brings together scientists, economists, businessmen, international high civil servants, heads of state and former heads of state from all five continents who are convinced that the future of humankind is not determined once and for all and that each human being can contribute to the improvement of our societies.

The Club of Rome was founded in April 1968 by Aurelio Peccei, an Italian industrialist, and Alexander King, a Scottish scientist.

Hasan Özbekhan, Erich Jantsch and Alexander N. Christakis were responsible for conceptualizing the original prospectus of the Club of Rome titled “The Predicament of Mankind.” This prospectus was founded on a humanistic architecture and the participation of stakeholders in democratic dialogue. When the Club of Rome Executive Committee in the Summer of 1970 opted for a mechanistic and elitist methodology for an extrapolated future, they resigned from their positions.

The Club of Rome raised considerable public attention with its report Limits to Growth, which has sold 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, making it the best selling environmental book in world history. Published in 1972 and presented for the first time at the ISC’s annual Management Symposium in St. Gallen, Switzerland, it predicted that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of the limited availability of natural resources, particularly oil. The 1973 oil crisis increased public concern about this problem.


Microfossil finds have been firmly established at about 3.5 Ga (giga annee=109 years), but no rocks older than about 4.0 Ga have been demonstrated, leaving the history of the first 0.6 Ga missing. This gap has been filled by models of the solar system. The origin term of the ocean, atmosphere, and much crustal material apparently lies in a heavy rain of comets, subsequent to the catastrophic Moon-forming event. The earliest microfossils are those of the Apex chert in Australia, about 3.5 Ga old. ‘Prebiotic’ simulations of possible biochemistry have made some progress in recent years, but many obstacles remain, and there is no agreement as to the course of development. The ‘ribose nucleic acid (RNA) World’, aboriginal ‘clay genes’, and catalysis on iron-sulfide precipitates are not ruled out. The search for the ‘last common ancestor’ has reached a point between the Bacteria and the Archaea. It is possible that this organism may have been a thermophile, similar to many modern hot spring organisms. But it is likely to have been an autotroph, and a late development after the true origin of life. Even more speculative are suggestions about the origins of metabolic sequences, in particular the origin of the genetic code. Since all modern organisms share this code (and many other things), there had to be a long history of development during the blank period of Earth history.


Slag Dobbelsteen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Slag Dobbelsteen is an artificial area near the planned Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam. It’s used for a wide variety of activities, like nude swimming, wind energy, surfing or diving in the inner sea (created by huge concrete dices functioning as wave breaker) to see the new biological entities living in the coolingwater of the factories of the port of Rotterdam. The Happy Shrimp Farm is using the warm water to breed shrimps. It is the first tropical shrimp farm in Europe and an example of a new eco-industrial company in the port of Rotterdam that benefits the economy and environment.
The greenhouse-enclosed farm is located on the dunes near the city of Rotterdam. It is co-sited near a power plant of E.ON Benelux utilizing the waste heat for warming the farm. You can also look out for new animals or species settling down in the area. Check this site for the statistics and spotted organisms.

Taxonomic Trophies

Maarten Vanden Eynde

Taxonomic Trophies, 2005/2006

Maarten Vanden Eynde Trophies

In hunting, trophies can be awarded as part of a competition, although a class of trophies specific to hunting also exists. These trophies are obtained from the bodies of game animals. Often the heads or entire bodies are processed by a taxidermist, although sometimes other body parts such as teeth or horns are used as trophies. Hunting for the singular purpose of obtaining trophies is often considered improper today. Such trophies have also been produced from humans in cultures that accept cannibalism or when two societies clash in war.
Commencing in the 1970s and 1980s in the United Kingdom, USA and some other western countries, a pejorative association began to be assumed regarding the process of hunting for trophies. By the year 2000 there is widespread consensus in animal welfare organizations and in segments of the population as a whole that trophy hunting is to be discouraged. Many of the 189 countries signtory to the 1992 Rio Accord have developed Biodiversity Action Plans that discourage the hunting of protected species.
A Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) is an internationally recognized programme addressing threatened species and habitats, which is designed to protect and restore biological systems. The original impetus for these plans derives from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). As of 2006, 188 countries have ratified the CBD, but only a fraction of these have developed substantive BAP documents.
The principal elements of a BAP include:
1. preparing inventories of biological information for selected species or habitats;
2. assessing the conservation status of species within specified ecosystems;
3. creation of targets for conservation and restoration.

Maarten Vanden Eynde

Taxonomic Trophies; Death Valley, USA 2006

Maarten Vanden Eynde Death Valley


Taxonomic species = Taxonomic species are morphologically and otherwise classified groups of organisms that taxonomists determine to belong to a specific group (Gaston 1996). This is a more traditional definition of “species”.

Trophic species = Trophic species are functional groups that contain organisms that appear to eat and be eaten by the exact same species within a food web (Cohen and Briand 1984). In other words, one or more species that eat entirely the same set of prey and are eaten by an entirely identical set of predators are considered one single trophic species.

A trophic species and a taxonomic species are identical when the trophic species contains only one taxon.

Taxonomy (from Greek verb τασσεῖν or tassein = “to classify” and νόμος or nomos = law, science, cf “economy”) was once only the science of classifying living organisms (alpha taxonomy), but later the word was applied in a wider sense, and may also refer to either a classification of things, or the principles underlying the classification. Almost anything, animate objects, inanimate objects, places, and events, may be classified according to some taxonomic scheme.

The Science of Freedom

Joseph Beuys (1921-1985)-“sculptor, painter, draftsman, graphic designer, action artist, art theorist, politician, and poet”-decided to devote himself to art during World War II. Earlier, he thought he wanted to be a doctor, but just prior to enlisting he had spent a year as an acrobat in the circus so nothing was certain….
Beuys had been fascinated since childhood by the natural sciences, and thought that medicine would offer a way to integrate his interest in science with his urge to bring about healing. He would actually spend his life doing these very things, but art, not medicine, would be his vehicle.
In the 1970s Beuys created the Theory of Social Sculpture:
“My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture. . . or of art in general. They should provoke thoughts about what sculpture can be and how the concept of sculpting can be extended to the invisible materials used by everyone.
THINKING FORMS–how we mold our thoughts or
SPOKEN FORMS–how we shape our thoughts into words or
SOCIAL SCULPTURE–how we mold and shape the world in which we live:
That is why the nature of my sculpture is not fixed and finished, processes continue in most of them: chemical reactions, fermentations, color changes, decay, drying up. Everything is in a state of change.”

To Beuys, ‘Social Sculpture’ based upon interactive dialogue had the potential to be transformative and healing. In the action ‘ I Like America And America Likes Me’, Beuys shared living quarters with a live coyote for five days in the Rene Block Gallery in New York.
He often used animals to teach the lessons of social ecology -“the cultural characteristics and patterns of social organisation that have brought about the current ecological crisis” -and ecofeminism- how the domination of man over the natural world reproduces his domination in society, leading to mutually catastrophic destruction.

I Like America And America Likes Me, 1974


“To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.” Joseph Beuys

The Lightning Field

Walter De Maria

The Lightning Field, 1977, by the American sculptor Walter De Maria, is a work of Land Art situated in a remote area of the high desert of southwestern New Mexico. It is comprised of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer. The poles-two inches in diameter and averaging 20 feet and 7½ inches in height-are spaced 220 feet apart and have solid pointed tips that define a horizontal plane. Only after a lightning strike has advanced to an area of about 61 m above the The Lightning Fielf can it sense the poles. The experience of the work directly in nature, the effect of the changing light, the shifting space, heat and the sense of waiting for a specific event (the lightning) heightens the viewer’s sense of scale and time.

Lightning Field

Genetologic Research Nr. 5bis, 2003 (100cm x 100cm x 450cm) 1km long

Maarten Vanden Eynde Dakpark

Maarten Vanden Eynde

Bospolder Tussen Dijken, 2003, by the Belgian sculptor Maarten Vanden Eynde, is a work of Land Art in a remote area of Bospolder Tussendijken, near Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It is comprised of 34 wooden beams installed in plastic tubs and covered with earth. Each pole is 450 cm in length and weighs, together with the tub, about 500 kilo. The whole work stretches out over 1 km. The wood is bended, twisted and stretched because of the weather conditions and the changing of seasons.


Joseph Beuys

Beuys’ planting of 7000 oak trees troughout the city of Kassel for Documenta7 embodied a wide concept of ecology which grows with time. 7000 trees were planted next to a basalt stone marker. Beuys stated that the project is a ‘movement of the human capacity towards a new concept of art, in symbolic communication with nature.’ The first tree was planted in 1982; the last tree was planted eighteen months after Beuys’ death at the opening of Documenta8 in 1987 by his son Wenzel Beuys.

‘I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but in that it will raise ecological consciousness-raise it increasingly, in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop planting.’

‘I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet.’

-Joseph Beuys, quoted by Johannes Stuttgen, 1982

7000 oaks