BioFriction Residency by Joel Ong | April and May 2021

Frozen Sound: Bioart and the Atmospheric Microbiome



>> (Written – spoken – heard – revealed) on the Wind

Amongst the great prophets of technology, mathematician Charles Babbage was particularly conscious of way the air could be seen as an infinite database.  In the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise  of 1837 he describes how “the air we breathe is the never-failing historian of the sentiments we have uttered”, where the atmosphere itself is activated by human conversation, utterances and all sound.  What if we could organize particles in the air, or reconfigure the air itself to hold and reveal such utterances?  What would it say, and how would the wind recast narratives, activate scnenographies, and be a medium that is the message?   Using the archetype of ‘frozen sound’ (Goethe was first to describe architecture as ‘frozen music’), I will engage with the aesthetics and ethics of revelation, where sound may not necessarily materialize as listened material, but more a symbol for the vibrant quality of life.


>>In the beginning was the word

Throughout its cultural history, the non-site of the atmosphere defies capture.  Through modern science, it has been materialized and politicized, with strata of the atmosphere slowing being overrun by aerial traffic, surveillance agents, electromagnetic signals, organic and inorganic products and other entities that form the backdrop of anthropogenic effects.   And this is not all – in what Prescott calls the ‘Synthetic Age’, climate geoengineering posits that we may modify our atmosphere through cloud modifications and carbon capture, create an Earth 2.0 that is cooler, and submit to capitalist designs on the commonwealth of air that is in the process of becoming more and more privatized everyday.

In my previous work (with Mick Lorusso) I have looked at the aerial microbiome and we have run some sampling and testing at various locations in North America.  I am struck by the extent of organic materials in an otherwise silent cloud ecosystem, and have been interested in the way their genetic materials could function as text for a ‘writing on the wind’.  This project proposed looks at DNA and transgenics as a way to cast light on a primordial by reversing genetic mutation through CRISPr, retuning each sample to its ‘wild type’.  This process while facetious to the scientists functions as a creative intervention to the acceleration in climate remediation, and provides a pause to reflect on recurring issues of genetic determinism.  While not explicitly discussed in current geo-engineering, I predict that genetically modified bacteria will be a large part of climate remediation because of its relative compatibility in the atmospheric ecologies and almost scalable effects of cloud seeding.


Therefore, my project poses these questions:

what if cloud-seeding was not just about organizing particles in the air, but reconfigure the particles in the air itself to hold and reveal genetic stories ? What would it say, and how would the wind recast these narratives, activate scenography’s, and be a medium that is the message?  How could we effect a ‘sensory revelation’ of the atmosphere through a previously described hybridity between the arts and the sciences, and yet retain a mythical or transcendentalist quality of the elements?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s