SOLAR FARM FOUNTAIN – July 2009

A research and production residency by Ken Rinaldo (US) and Amy Youngs (US).

We were thrilled to be invited to do a residency at Cultivamos Cultura in 2009. This was a rare opportunity to travel together to experiment and try new conditions to create an ecosystem artwork, based an aquaponics project we began in 2007. We have both worked with plants and created works looking to idealistic notions of symbiotic systems so, when given the chance to collaborate and expand on our ecosystem art experiments, we were thrilled to apply our ideas to a new location.
The idea for Farm Fountain, our original experiment in local, sustainable agriculture and recycling, began even earlier, as collaborative work created at Pilchuck Glass School in 2005. Almost immediately, we realized that a glass, hydroponic garden, while formally beautiful, was not so practical. It was quite fragile, the clear glass promoted algae growth, and the plants needed to have nutrients added into their water stream.
When we received the invitation from Cultivamos Cultura from Directors Marta de Menezes and Luis Graca, we were ecstatic to finally get the chance to see if we could create a completely solar powered version of our Farm Fountain.
In Columbus Ohio where we live, putting this project outside, where the sunlight could sustainably provide this energy, would only work in the summer since our winter climate would kill the plants and fish. We needed a better climate and the Alentejo region of Portugal has it.
The location of the Cultivamos Cultura residency, in the sunny, never freezing agricultural area of Portugal was fortuitous, but even more so, was the particular focus this residency has on the challenging forms of eco-art and bio-art. We have discovered that working with living organisms and water inside galleries and museums it is difficult, since plants tend to like natural light which is not what traditional artworks call for and therefore not what art spaces are designed to supply.
In conclusion we feel that we were able to create a work of functional edible art and a place to imagine the future of sustainable agricultural practices. We were able to confirm that indeed the sun, which powers all, was also able to integrate well with technological systems in the creation of this garden. Knowledge that the hotel cooks are now using our natural herbs as garnishes and ingredients in the sandwiches they were creating for hotel guests made this experience rewarding beyond words.
Still, as with much of our work, the piece created ideas for future modifications we would like to make. What we learned from our Solar Farm Fountain has certainly influenced the ecosystem artworks we are each currently developing.
With the lingering question about where to get sustainable fish food, Amy Youngs began working with worms as possible protein sources and later employed them as the fertilizing agents directly. This new process, called vermiponics, is still very much in development but has promise as a way to use food waste as the main system input, rather than fish food.
These were implemented in our home Farm Fountain systems we had in our green pantry. Since then Amy Youngs has developed a new vertical interactive work that explores these ideas in a work called the Machine for Living Interdependently and Ken Rinaldo has developed new grow bags that also implement worms as fertilizer sources for plants in his Cascading Gardens project.
There is much exciting research to do and we continue to evolve our designs for local sustainable agricultural systems

http://farmfountain.com/index.html

Ken Rinaldo (US):

Ken Rinaldo is internationally recognized for his interactive installations blurring the boundaries between the organic and inorganic and speaking to the co-evolution between living and evolving technological cultures. His work interrogates these fuzzy boundaries and Rinaldo posits that as a new machinic and algorithmic species arise that we need to better understand the complex intertwined ecologies that these machinic semi living species challange. Past and present works are focused on transpecies communication and researching methods to empower and understand animal, insect, bacterial and emergent machine cognition.
His works have been commissioned by museums, festivals and galleries internationally such as: Nuit Blanche Canada, World Ocean Museum Russia, Lille International Arts Festival France, Itau Museum Brazil, Biennial for Electronic Art Australia, National Center for Contemporart Arts Russia.
Rinaldo was the recipient of first prize for VIDA 3.0 Spain for an Artifical Life Conciousness robotic series an Award of Distinction from Ars Electronica Austria in 2004 for a transpecies artwork in which a siamese fighting fish was able to move it’s tank under it’s control as well as a Green Leaf Award from The United Nations Environment Program 2008 for an aquaponics project in which fish and bateria fed plants which humans would then comsume. He was the recipient of three Battelle Endowment grants as well as a cultural Olympian for the Vancouver Olympics in 2009, where they commissioned three Paparazzi Robots.
Rinaldo is a member of the Senior Academic Board for Antennae Magazine and author of Interactive Electronics for Artists and Inventors and his work has been featured on radio and TV internationally including: CNET, BBC, CNN, CBC & the Discovery Channel as well as select publications; Art and Electronic Media by Edward Shanken, Art  + Science by Steve Wilson, Digital Art by Christiane Paul, NY Times, NY Arts Magazine, and Wired Magazine. Rinaldo is a Professor teaching contemporary art practices and technology within the College of Arts and Sciences at the Ohio State University; focused on sustainability, interspecies communication, robotics, bio art, 3D modeling and animation where he directs the Art & Technology Program.

http://kenrinaldo.com

Amy Youngs (US):

Amy M. Youngs creates biological, interactive and digital artworks that explore relationships between technology and animals – human and non-human. She has exhibited her works at venues such as the Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre in Norway, the Biennale of Electronic Arts in Australia, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She has lectured about her work at the Australian Center For the Moving Image and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN. She received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999 and is currently an Associate Professor of Art at the Ohio State University.

http://hypernatural.com

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