Aphrodisiac in the Machine
In the near future, can a new species of oysters transform toxic water into a new kind of aphrodisiac? A public sentient machine of more perceptible humans that embrace a more sensual interconnection with the cycle of life. One that could lead to a better handling of this ecological crisis.
Why Sentience? ISEA 2020 Montreal, Canada
October 13–18, 2020 (online exhibition ongoing)
View the exhibition
New Media Artspace (Solo Exhibition)
Baruch College, New York, NY
February 18–May 1, 2020
View the 4-Channel Video Installation
Goodbye Cruel World It’s Over
November 27 – February 2, 2020
Weltkunstzimmer, Düsseldorf, Germany
View exhibition catalog
Soft, fleshy and resourceful, the oyster is a magnificent and extremely talented creature of the sea. It was almost extinct by the mid 20th century due to industrial pollution and massive overfishing. One tiny 2-inch organism can filter up to 50 gallons of polluted water per day. Its home created from its own layered shells combine with others to form natural reef systems that protect coastlines against rising sea levels and provide habitat for other species to thrive. And legends speak wonders of its euphoric powers as an aphrodisiac.
Imagine if we could bioengineer this magical species to convert toxic water into an even more transformative formula and piped it into public drinking water? Could we create a public sentient machine of more perceptible humans? A perception that enables a more sensual interconnection with the cycle of life that leads to a better handling of this ecological crisis? One that transforms energy into an agential sensual power?
“Aphrodisiac in the Machine” is an environmental science fiction that manifests in a variety of formats online and offline including installations, videos and performances. It explores the ethical and economic contradictions within the desire to be more sustainable both individually and on a global scale. The project focuses on the neoliberal concept of natural capital and what is known as ecosystem services, the provisioning and regulating of natural resources for human survival. One area that has received much development is aquaculture. It is a form of sea farming that has been gainfully employed to more sustainably secure future food resources and offset the environmental degradation of land-based industrial farming. Yet as these systems scale up they become another extraction machine presenting a new set of environmental problems.
Inspired by black feminist writer Audre Lorde’s notion of the erotic as a power of feeling, “Aphrodisiac in the Machine” posits more-than-human sentience as a lubricant to speculate a new kind of eco-machine. The project plays with the libidinous myth of the oyster, a hermaphroditic organism, being bioengineered in a futuristic aquaculture farm. Technology is eroticized as intersexual bioengineered cyborg oysters convert toxic water into an aphrodisia-inducing fluid called Aquadisia Water given out freely to the public.
Lorde challenges the patriarchal overtones in how the word erotic is used, not only redefining but reigniting the erotic as a physical, psychic and emotional energy that can’t be reduced to a commodified good or systematized affect. Can this new and improved bioengineered oyster push humans past the mere libidinal and sexualized state of capital conquests of other bodies and into a new state of sentience – a Sentience 2.0? We invite you to take a drink!
“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. Laboratory research is currently being conducted at Coalesce Center for Biological Art at the University at Buffalo, NY. 3D model animation created by Sputnik Animation in Portland, ME.
Promotional video for Aquadisia Water
Actor: Shasti O’Leary Soudant
Sound design: Suzanne Thorpe
Prototype for public Aquadisia Water dispenser. Cyborg bioengineered oysters will be housed in glass aquaculture vessels supplying Aquadisa Water to the dispenser. The glass vessels are filled with water, lights and 3D printed synthetic oysters. The vessels stand 6′ high and 10″ in diameter on metal stands. The water dispenser is 3.5′ high and 20″ in diameter. The interactive technology includes Arduino and Neopixel.
Working prototype of Aquadisia Water dispenser. Vessels will be filled with water.
Working prototype of Aquadisia Water dispenser. Close-up of cyborg bioengineered oyster.
Video excerpt of bioengineered oyster and aquaculture farm. Sound design by Suzanne Thorpe.
Prototyping the cyborg bioengineered oyster
3d model of bioengineered oyster
3D model of aquaculture farm
Prototype design for communal drinking station (hookah inspired version)
Below: Working with biologist Solon Morse at Coalesce Center for Biological Art at University at Buffalo in summer 2021. We are experimenting with oyster DNA and CRISPR to create Aquadisia Water.
Initial phase of soft robotic prototyping of the fluid dispenser at Xenoform Labs in San Francisco, January 2020
Artist talk on the project in development as part of “Coalesce Disperse: Reports from the Lab”, Coalesce Center for Biological Art, University at Buffalo, May 8, 2020
Some interesting oyster anecdotes:
Map of oyster fishing from 1880’s. Oysters are now nearly extinct off the coast of Germany and re-seeding efforts are underwayMarine wildlife, oyster beds on the sea floor near Ostend, vintage engraving
Dutch artist Jan Steen “Girl with Oysters”, 1658
The infamous Casanova (1725-1798) who claimed he ate 50 oysters for breakfast to enhance his libido.