Palaeoplasticene

Kat Austen is one of the artists hosting scientists in residence as part of the STUDIOTOPIA programme, through Ars Electronica. Austen’s Studio is hosting Indrė Zliobaitė and Laurence Gill. Studiotopia’s residency, exhibition, art and pop-up lab programme aims to establish better connections between arts and science, cultural & research institutions and with European citizens.

Palaeoplasticene is developed in collaboration with Studio Austen’s scientists-in-residence Indrė Žliobaitė and Laurence Gill. 

Palaeoplasticene prehistoric mushroom field experiment. Image: Kat Austen CC-BY-SA 4.0

Addressing the ubiquity and longevity of microplastic in the environment, Palaeoplasticene is a developing series of distributed transdisciplinary experiments that question the agency of plastic through “Long Time”. 
Recent research has shown the presence of microplastics at the outskirts of human reach: at the bottom of the Mariana trench and on top of mountains. What we consider to be our natural environment unequivocally and ubiquitously contains plastic. The situation is such that the phrase “plastisphere” has been coined to denote the contemporary pervasive dispersal of artificial plastics around the globe. Designed to be durable and unreactive, plastic outlasts its surrounding flora and fauna, yet ecosystems are already adapting to this new materiality with microorganisms evolving to feed on plastic, and plants being shown to take microplastics into tissue.

This new materiality raises questions about “Long Time” – timescales so big that they are beyond human experience. Timothy Morton refers to plastics as hyperobjects; phenomena so large and distributed in time or space that they are beyond our human experience. We encounter time-scales beyond our reach through the ramifications of plastics’ release in the environment, and also through geological processes such as weathering, rock formation, the hydrological and carbon cycles. The questions of “Long Time” can be refined for different elements by considering their global biogeochemical cycles and in particular their residence times in different states of the cycle. So, for example, the water cycle is well understood involving relatively long residence times in the atmosphere, in the bedrock and in the ocean. Equally, there is a lot of focus on the carbon cycle in relation to global warming and in particular the residence time of carbon as a gas in the atmosphere. What happens when plastic coincides with these processes?

The team are currently developing Open Artistic Research methods to explore these topics across their different European locations.

About STUDIOTOPIA

STUDIOTOPIA is a European initiative that seeks to activate  the  collaborative and interdisciplinary expertise  required  to face the ecological implications of the Anthropocene. It consists of eight European cultural institutions: Center for Fine Arts (BOZAR) and GLUON in Brussels, Ars Electronica in Linz, Cluj Cultural Centre in Cluj, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdansk, Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Laboral in Gijon.

Artists Host Scientists

STUDIOTOPIA implements an inverse art and science residency model where scientists from diverse disciplines respond to an open call to work alongside and learn from leading European artists. The aim of the residency programme is to create an experimental space where scientists and artists can exchange ideas, learn from each other, develop methods for transdisciplinary collaboration and create speculative solutions to sustainable development. The purpose of the programme is also to formulate a clearer understanding of how artists and scientists can work together, and how such interactions can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Ars Electronica nominated the artists Kat Austen and Maja Smrekar to host selected scientists-in-residence.

Meet the Scientists

Indrė Žliobaitė is a tenure track professor at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Her background is in machine learning with evolving  data. In Helsinki, she leads a research group called Data science and  evolution, which focuses on computational analyses of the changing world. For the last six years, Indrė has been actively involved in evolutionary paleontology research studying the mammalian fossil  record. 

Laurence Gill is a Professor in Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering, Trinity College Dublin. His research interests involve studying the fate and transport of both air and water-borne pollutants in the natural and built environment, the development of passive treatment processes, the ecohydrology of wetlands and the characterisation of karst hydrological catchments. Much of the work involves extensive field studies which are then used to develop mathematical models to gain further insight into the processes.