posted Jun 19, 2009, 6:31 AM by Diego S. Maranan   [ updated Jun 22, 2009, 12:45 AM ]
My first day back at the Biomodd Lab with Margarita Pantaleon and Roy San Buenaventura. Vanni and Jeryl were in the lab. The prototype is larger than I imagined, and surprising. The potential (and problems) of the installation are clearer to me now. Vanni and Kent have done fantastic work keeping the ball rolling. Jeryl looks super committed to doing the game. Margarita and Roy are two very bright students, so they're quick to pick up on things.
Victor Sison came into the lab later, and his ideas were invigorating. He manages a small farm which he's converting into a sustainable outfit, so he's done lots of research and practical work into sustainable technologies. He has completely re-inspired me to return to issues of food production. He showed us Farm Fountain, which is stunning in its simplicity, elegance, and utility, plus the artists are encouraging other people to create version of the farm fountain. So between Vanni, Roy, Victor, and me, we came up with a new ideas for the hardware and biological components (there's also the wood carving and the gaming components) of Biomodd.
In a nutshell, we can adapt many of the ideas in Farm Fountain to deal with what has been a pressing problem so far, i.e., what to do with the excess heat from the computers in a way that creates symbiotic relationships all around.
  • USING TILAPIA AQUACULTURE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF HEAT: In [ATH1], heat was the central shared element, the "vital force" that connected the botanical with the digital with the human. In [LBA2], it's been more problematic because we haven't (or at least i think we haven't) found a vital or poignant use of heat. The plants don't need the heat. Well, they may not mind the heat, but the idea of a greenhouse just won't resonate with a filipino audience. We want to get rid of as much heat as possible (and I mean this on several levels, both literal and metaphorical). But taking our cue from [ATH1], Farm Fountain/aquaponics, and ideas around using food in [LBA2] (which were raised in very early [LBA2] brainstorming sessions) led us to look up the tolerance of tilapia to heat, and found that tilapia can tolerate water temperatures above 25 degrees. In fact, warmer waters create faster growth, which can be seen as a very good thing (though the tilapia need to feed more). The aqariums could therefore hold tilapia and increased aquarium temperature leads to a higher utility value for the sculpture as a whole. (Not that the sculpture is all about its utility value... but isn't it nice that it can also feed people?)
  • USING WATER FILTRATION TO CLOSE ONE OF THE SYSTEMS: Much like in Farm Fountain, we can build several tiered hydroponic plant cradles from recyled PET bottles that will remove the nitrite from aquarium water, turn the nitrate into usable nitrate through bacteria living in the growing medium (ideally expandable clay but maybe gravel or vermiculite will do) and thus fertilize the plants. In turn, the water is filtered and purified... which can then be returned back to the aquariums.
  • USING WATER DISTILLATION TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF HEAT: Some of the excess heat of the computers can be used to gently heat dirty water (from the aquariums, perhaps?) and distilled using a simple water condensation setup. This distilled water could then again be diverted to the aquariums.
  • USING WATER DISTILLATION & FILTRATION TO LESSEN ENERGE REQUIREMENTS: Victor claims that the effect of water dripping on the aquariums obviates or lessens the need for an artificial aeration system. That would be spectacular if that were true.
  • USING WATER DISTILLATION & FILTRATION TO INVOLVE HUMANS MORE INTIMATELY WITH THE HYBRID ECOSYSTEM: The clean water (filtered using hydroponic or distilled using a simple cooling apparatus) could be offered to the gamers in the form of drinking water. (To close the system even further, we could provide a way for the gamers to pee into the sculpture and let their pee be distilled or filtered. But I guess that would be too much.)
We can still populate the sculpture with a simulated tropical rainforest, but that can become as an adjunct (maybe even secondary) to creating a working aquaponic system. In fact, maybe all we need to do is preserve the central "tree" (really a wooden post that is used to support vines and other creeping plants). What I like about focusing on aquaponics more than on simulating a tropical rainforest is how the theme of food security (a theme that would resonate deeply with a Filipino audience) is aestheticized and moved to the forefront. It also elegantly solves the problem of excess heat.
The idea of compartmentalization (again, an old idea from back in the Biomodd brainstorming days) also came up today, but without necessarily dividing the interior of the sculpture. Instead, the side of the hexagonal frame could highlight a different view into the thematic components of the sculpture: hardware, hydroponics, aquaculture, forest ecosystem, computer monitors. I was worried that this then visually negates the symbiotic nature of the sculpture, when Vanni suggested that there could be some visual overlap between the components.
Tomorrow, we'll start drawing these ideas. We also should figure out specific information like how much water we'd need given how many fish for a certain number of computer components. We already know that 1 liter of water can sustain 13 lbs (grams?) worth of tilapia. Thoughts, team?