Crymlyn Bog – Natural Law

Today second visit to the Natural Law project in Bonymaen, Swansea UK. Artists collective Artstation have added a Arthub to a former batist Chapel. The chapel also hosts a food bank for this deprived area of Wales.

 

Artstation is running a range of activities – gardening, radio play, green dream house, community conversations about regeneration and climate action, all aiming for a Better Bonymaen. They are doing a great job of bringing a mix of residents, stakeholders, specialists, artists to the table. Check recent some of the conversations, for example on Climate Change in Food Bank Neighborhoods.

 

Down the hill from the estate is the Crymlyn Bog, one of the largest wetlands areas in Wales. Part of the Natural Law project is to improve the relationship between the community and the bog, which is often used for dumping unwanted objects.

 

 

Artstation invited me to run a couple of experiments with microbial fuel cells on the bog. We are planning to measure the electrical output (voltage) from several cells and to sonify the data, thus giving voice to some of the unseen life in the bog. I have made a solar-powered data logging box (bog box) that collects a voltage sample every 10 minutes.

 

Today we cycled down to the bog in Natural Law’s electric cargo bike and plugged the bog box in a quiet area. We will download the file in a few weeks time, observe variations and experiment with data-driven audio. We are also planning to transmit the data through a live link from the bog to the chapel.

 

We also talked to local primary school teachers about possibilities for their pupils to engage with the project, including microbial fuel cell workshops.

Photos by Glenn Davidson

We Are Ducked in Boca Raton

We Are Ducked, video and sculpture, has gone to Florida for a winter break.
Exhibited in the Ritter Art Gallery in Florida Atlantic University as part of The Dreams of our Fathers: Environment, Technology & Urban Landscapes
“The exhibition gathers artists who use technology as a tool, a subject, or a metaphor in their exploration of our contemporary culture of consumption and growth while reviewing its impact on our landscape. From reflections on the petroleum industry to criticism of industrial processes and their effects on our environment to analyses of migration patterns and suburbia’s surreal but nostalgic plastic landscapes, these artists explore the human footprint and its legacy on our world.”
Until March 1st 2024

 

 

Garden Lab Whispers Grow

I recently enjoyed very much working on the Garden Lab Whispers Grow project in collaboration with a group of disabled creatives and Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) in Bristol. Garden Lab Whispers Grow was one of 6 teams selected for Grounding Technologies, a pilot project from Bristol + Bath Creative R+D for exploring how creative technology can be used to support climate action.


Garden Lab workshop 1
 
“Nature relatedness has been found to be associated with reduced self-interest, more concern for the welfare of the environment, better physical and mental health, a meaningful life, and increased pro-environmental behaviour.”
Schultz 2001



Based in a local community allotment the group worked for 3 months on two families of experiments exploring how nature connectedness relates to climate action and creative technologies. The team co-designed a macrostick, a device enabling a wheelchair user to observe and take extreme close-up photographs at ground level. Another microscope was mounted on a remote-controlled snail-inspired vehicle. Creative technology is here applied for improving access to and visualisation of small scale natural elements.

 


The second strand of experiments were based on mud batteries, aka microbial fuel cells, a technology that I have worked with for some time (for example the Singing Compost collaboration with AHrun Morrison). The mud batteries capture the electrons emitted by certain electrogenic bacteria in the soil and produce a small electrical current as a result, that can be made tangible with light and sound. This technology is very useful for revealing an otherwise invisible activity by non-human beings in the soil, crucial for life on the planet as well as to start conversations about the importance of microbes, dirt, weeds, non-extractive energy generation, empathy with non-human beings.

 



We ran workshops for disabled creatives, for the after school club in the allotment and for an open day at KWMC.
The project finished with a showcase of the 6 Grounding Technologies teams at the Pervasive Media Studio, Watershed in Bristol. This was a very inspiring and dynamic presentation of inventive and current applications of creative tech to diverse aspects of climate action.

 



Garden Lab Whispers Grow team: Paul Granjon, Annali Grimes, Ruth Hennell, Oliver Woods, Daisy Hunter

 


Links:
• Check the videos for the other Grounding Tech projects, playlist here
KWMC’s project page on Garden Lab Whispers Grow
• Grounding Technologies project page
• Video stream of the final Grounding Tech showcase (Garden Lab at 01:47:00)




Singing Compost [heap#1], with Harun Morrison

 

Singing Compost [heap#1]

A collaboration between Harun Morrison and Paul Granjon

 

Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. The compost material contains electrogenic bacteria, microbes that release electrons as part of their metabolic process.

 

The presence of such bacteria (Shewanella Oneidensis, Geobacter…) in most soils has led to the development of microbial fuel cells (MFCs), also known as mud batteries. MFCs capture this electronic flow for powering low-power circuits such as environmental sensors.

 

Research in MFC design has established that growing live plants in the cell benefits the lifespan of the bacteria. These batteries are called Plant MFCs.

 

An array of 16 plant MFCs are integrated into the bed of the Singing Compost, their electrical output channelled to a circuit producing sounds that vary according to the voltage produced.

 

Singing Compost [heap#1] is installed in the Art Research Garden of Goldsmiths University London.

 

Mud batteries saga continues

In 2016-17 I worked with bio-engineer Michka Melo on microbial fuel cells, also known as mud batteries. We conducted various experiments in my studio and in the FabLab at Cardiff Metropolitan University, attempting to make an open source design for use in art and design, education, diy off-grid applications. We presented our result in the V&A’s Digital Design Festival in September 2017.

You can find an account of our experiments here.

 

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In 2018 I was commissioned for a new robotic art installation for the exhibition Y Las Cosas Que Hacemos (and the things we make) in Bilbao, Spain. I made 11 Mudbots, small mobile robots powered by microbial fuel cells (MFCs), loosely inspired by the dung beetle. The MFCs in the Mudbots did not work for long and the installation relied on human power for most of the duration of the exhibition. More info here.

 

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Slightly disgruntled by the experience, I stored the Mudbots and focused on other matters for a couple of years. In 2021 I was contacted by Mexican product designer Tony Gutierrez who had found out about the Mudbots. Toni had developed Mosby, a very elegant design for MFCs that includes living moss. The moss contributes to a healthy bacterial population. We agreed to share best practice of Tony’s long-lasting MFC units and my electronic designs towards an open-source recipe for easy to make and maintain mud batteries.

 

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With my interest in MFCs renewed, I received a small grant from Cardiff School of Art and Design towards further experiments with plant MFCs using bryophytes (moss), taking inspiration from Mosby and from experiments conducted by Paolo Bombelli in Cambridge. The grant was also used for designing an electricity harvesting module with an electronic engineer. I presented the mixed results of this new wave of experiments at the Beyond conference in Cardiff in autumn 2022, see poster here.

 

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I am now working on a new wave of MFCs, using a simpler and easier to maintain design with vertical electrodes, that so far is giving good results. In collaboration with artist Harun Morrison we will implement in March 2023 an installation at Goldsmith University London. Located in a garden on campus, Singing Compost will convert the electrical activity of MFCs embedded in the soil into sound. More details coming soon.

 

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My long time friend and brilliant sci-artist Antony Hall is also working on MFCs at the moment, check his work here, a collaboration is in the pipeline.

Arduino connection issue with Linux Mint 21.0

Every 3 or 4 years I try to wean myself off Apple computers and embrace the open source, non proprietary software option offered by diverse Linux distros. I have in the living room a  Lenovo X201 running Linux Mint for playing Spotify and web browsing. The old laptop has been doing the job well for about 4 years. But when I try to use Linux on my main machine, after messing about with settings and installs for a couple of weeks I return to my slick macbooks and their crystal clear user experience.

 

 

December 2022: I felt the itch again and bought a decent Lenovo X1 laptop fifth generation for £230. I wiped Windows 11 and installed Linux Mint 21.0 XFCE.  I often make robots and other programmable hardware things powered by Arduino microcontrollers. After installing the Arduino 2.0 software using the out of the box Software Manager I quickly found out that none of my Arduino boards were recognised by the system. The Arduino application displayed the message “No Board detected”. As a Linux newbie here is the detail of the fix, might be useful for someone :>))

 

I had joined the Dialout group as instructed (https://support.arduino.cc/hc/en-us/articles/360016495679-Fix-port-access-on-Linux). You can check if you belong to the dialout group  by typing in Terminal the command: groups

Trailing Linux and Arduino forums I found a mention of a utility called BRLTTY that could be the cause of the problem. I had to do a bit more digging for fixing the fault.

 

First check if your board is listed in the tty devices:

Connect your Arduino to a USB port
in Terminal type: ls /dev
A long list of devices will appear. Look for ttyACMx or ttyUSBx [ x will be a number, for example ttyACM0 ].
If you don’t find anything like that it shows that your system has not loaded the board.

 

In Terminal type: dmesg
A very long list of Kernel-related information will appear. Look for information about your USB ports that looks like the following:

————————————-

[ 8831.372900] ch341 1-6:1.0: ch341-uart converter detected
[ 8831.374994] usb 1-6: ch341-uart converter now attached to ttyUSB0
[ 8831.421366] input: PC Speaker as /devices/platform/pcspkr/input/input27
[ 8831.964820] input: BRLTTY 6.4 Linux Screen Driver Keyboard as /devices/virtual/input/input28
[ 8832.095593] usb 1-6: usbfs: interface 0 claimed by ch341 while ‘brltty’ sets config #1
[ 8832.100489] ch341-uart ttyUSB0: ch341-uart converter now disconnected from ttyUSB0
[ 8832.100615] ch341 1-6:1.0: device disconnected

—————————————-

 

This shows that the system detected the board and attached it to USB0, then loaded BRLTTY utility. BRLTTY claimed the serial interface and subsequently the board was disconnected.

BRLTTY is an accessibility utility for blind people. If you do not need it, you can remove it from your system, together with its not needed dependent packages, by typing in Terminal:

sudo apt-get remove –auto-remove brltty

Unplug and re-plug your board, type again in Terminal: ls /dev

If all goes to plan you should now see a ttyUSBx or ttyACMx, and your Arduino IDE will now show the port.

 

oznor

e-wasteroïd 2 – Piksel Festival Bergen

A second e-wasteroïd was made in the Piksel Festival XXth edition in Bergen, Norway. I worked with a handful of participants over 2 days, making a new version of the electronic waste kinetic sculpture. Due to small numbers of participants this one had much less electronic bits hanging from the rotating engine than in the first version, but more time was given to the individual additions and the programming of sonic and moving parts. And we found out that it looked good in the dark.

 

 

You can check the festival programme HERE. Highlights:

 

MTCD- A Visual Anthology of My Machine Life, a live monologue with minimal graphics by my friend Teresa Dillon, tracing back her life year by year in relation to machines she used or encountered. Very engaging and funny yet thoughtful and critical.

 

 

Process Pages by Nick Montfort. The MIT professor of digital media showed a minimal generative piece where 3 monitors display the result of extremely compact javascripts that explore Unicode. The code is up for grabs on A4 printouts placed in front of each monitor. Very frugal and elegant, strong aesthetics, reflection on languages and code. Nick Montfort also presented a talk about the online poetry magazine Taper, an Online Magazine for Tiny Computational Poems. Contributors are invited to submit coded poems no bigger than 2KB, check it out!

 

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Woods on Mount Fløyen above Bergen

 

 

Flying in 2022, my first flight since June 2019… Eco-guilt was felt at the idea of flying several thousand kilometers for an electronic arts festival, but didn’t prevail. Not sure how I will handle this in the future, looking into emissions compensation and/or limiting participation to venues accessible by trains (for Bergen it was 18 trains over 3 days each way).

e-wasteroïd

The beauty and the ugliness of electronic waste fight it off in this workshop for curious people. Starting with a pile of electronic waste items such as printers, pc towers, DVD players the participants will build a spinning asteroid made of out of date components and found timber, mining the old machines for intricate and complex parts. The resulting temporary sculpture is both celebration of human engineering and sinister indicator of an extractivist civilisation gone in overdrive.

 

Expect improvisation, technological creativity, freestyle wiring, collaboration and low-tech solutions. In line with Granjon’s current methods, the machine will work off-grid, be made of 90% recycled or found components and use open source technology controllers (Arduino).

The e-wasteroïd belongs to Granjon’s extensive practice of Wrekshops, where participants take apart electronic waste and help build a kinetic sculpture. The events combine hands-on, fun making with grassroots conversations inspired by the material, its abundance and creative potential.

The participants do not need to have prior knowledge of electronics or programming, start age 7 (under 12 accompanied by an adult). The workshop can run for a few hours or a whole day or 2, with participants coming and going, or booking a slot. Max 7 participants at a time with 1 assistant.

The e-wasteroïd can be exhibited as an installation after the workshop, before its parts return to the recycling plant.

The first e-wasteroïd was tested during the Deershed Festival in the UK in July 2022.

 

Wrekshop action

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