Aphrodisiac in the Machine (work in progress)

Aphrodisiac in the Machine 

In the near future, can a new species of oysters convert toxic water into an aphrodisia-inducing fluid?

“Aphrodisiac in the Machine” is a multimedia installation that explores the ethics and economics of bioengineering non-human life for human survival. The project takes the form of an environmental sci-fi narrative about a futuristic aquaculture farm. Merging fact and fiction, the story centers around the bioengineering of a new species of cyborg oysters that are able to convert toxic water into an aphrodisia-inducing fluid that is introduced into municipal water sources. Playing on the libidinous myth of the oyster, a hermaphroditic organism, the project explores aphrodisia as a more sentient state of being and empowerment that moves beyond mere sexual connotations. It questions the contradictions within new technological models of bio/geo environmental engineering that can often adversely affect nonhuman life and how creating more sentient and perceptible “humans” might be another path to consider.

The project extrapolates on a 2005 scientific study which tested the veracity of these claims. The study made a buzz in the media but a definitive answer was never determined and no follow up studies have been conducted since. 

The project also casts light on the oyster’s long history of domestication and its current role in ecosystem services, questioning the ethics and environmental consequences of utilizing “natural capital” as resources for extraction. Once a food source of the proletariat, the oyster evolved into a bourgeois delicacy that is now nearly extinct due to anthropogenic factors. Initiatives to repopulate go beyond its providing sustenance to the organism’s ability to filter massive amounts of polluted water (up to 50 gallons per day) and the use of “oyster-tecture” – leveraging the oyster’s habitat as a natural reef barrier against sea level rise.

In the project, the myth becomes a metaphorical wrench in the new global machine of sea farming as more sentient ways of being are unleashed into networks and infrastructures. Focusing on current environmental issues, the narrative moves between multiple perspectives and ways of knowing and being sentient as the story unfolds — the human, the libidinal, the oyster, the invisible living matter in the water and of the network. A non-human subaqueous system is explored comprised of not only the organic flesh and fluids of the oyster body but also the flows of data that circulate throughout.

The project will take the form of a media installation comprised of a 3-channel video and a soft robotic sculpture of the cyborg oyster in a machine that dispenses the aphrodisiac elixir. The elixir will be developed through a recreation of the 2005 scientific study.

“Aphrodisiac in the Machine” is supported through artist residencies at Z/KU Center for Art and Urbanism in Berlin and Xenoform Labs in San Francisco and a fellowship at the Roux Center for Environmental Studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Reference materials:

Aquaculture statistics

Map of oyster fishing from 1880’s. Oysters are now extinct off the coast of Germany and re-seeding efforts are underway


Marine wildlife, oyster beds on the sea floor near Ostend, vintage engraving

Dutch artist Jan Steen “Girl with Oysters”, 1658

The infamous Casanova (1725-1798)