A Carbon Negative Art and Research Project
This project was supported by the City of Port Phillip through the Rupert Bunny Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship
PluginHUMAN were the recipients of the 2019 Rupert Bunny Visual Arts Fellowship. Our 1.5 year fellowship project was called CAPTURE. It was an investigation into carbon neutral and carbon negative materials and working practices. During the fellowship we created a series of compostable biopolymers. Our biopolymers are a plastic-like substance that can break down in domestic compost systems. We plan to use these in our installation work, replacing commercial plastics and many metals. The majority of our biopolymers are made using seaweed. The CAPTURE project involved: creating and presenting a video artwork, researching sustainable practices and producing sustainable materials, creating a ‘Carbon Calculator’, and creating a ‘Leaf Area Calculator.’
THE VIDEO ARTWORK
A central outcome from this project was a video artwork. This work showcases the microscopic qualities of our compostable biopolymer materials. It accentuates the beauty and intricate nature of these environmentally responsible materials. In making the video we used digital methods to reveal the biopolymers’ hidden and subtle qualities. We photographed the biopolymers under microscope and animated the imagery using generative computer processing. The video artwork’s soundtrack was developed from a fusion of electronic sounds and our intricate audio recordings of organic materials. This involved hydrophones, contact mics and field recordings.
The CAPTURE video artwork was exhibited in December 2020 as a largescale public projection in St Kilda, Australia. In using a fusion of digital and organic materials and working processes we invited audiences to experience aspects of nature that are not perceptible without the use of specialist technological equipment. We reveal hidden qualities of an organic material that can be used as a replacement for commercial plastics, and can help us achieve a carbon negative future.
The combination of art and science in CAPTURE gives the audience incredible insight into the beauty of the natural world.
This project involved an intensive time of practical experimentation. We developed a reliable biopolymer recipe and production method. This involved testing recipes and observing the stability of the materials we created. As biopolymers dry and solidify they can dramatically change shape. This can lead to interesting and disastrous creative outcomes. We used our most stable recipes and methods to create large format (2m x 1m) biopolymer materials. These materials were observed over 1 year, to ensure that as they dried, they retained a shape and form suitable for our needs.
OUR CARBON CALCULATOR
We created a carbon calculator that helped us track the carbon footprint of the project, taking into account materials, transport, electronics and the resources used over the course of the fellowship. We also developed our own carbon offsetting methods. We live and work in an area of Naarm (Melbourne, Australia) that features Platanus Trees (plane trees). Plane tree leaves do not easily decompose in domestic compost systems, so the huge quantity of leaves that are dropped by these trees every autumn mostly end up in landfill. Once in landfill, the leaves can release methane, a gas that is worse for the environment than carbon dioxide (CO2).
We collected large quantities of plane tree leaves. Research shows that these leaves are high in carbon and their slow decomposition rates may help slow the release of carbon from the leaves. We experimented with sealing large quantities of these leaves in our custom-made compostable biopolymers. Our intention was to further slow the decomposition rate helping to stabiles the carbon contained in the leaves. Our aim is to contain the carbon for the longest timeframe and for it to slowly release into composting soil.
OUR LEAF AREA CALCULATOR
We used the Macquarie University (Professor Ian Wright) leaf carbon calculator to determine the amount of carbon stored in plane tree leaves. To complete this calculation we needed to know the size (area) of all of the leaves we had collected. The scanning technology that is commonly used for this type of leaf measurement is unaffordable for many projects and organisations. So we created our own ‘Leaf Area Calculator’. We designed an innovative custom software system (using TouchDesigner) that measures the area of a leaf/leaves in an instant. Our method needs no specialist equipment. It involves a standard computer, a free software program and a webcam.
Our carbon calculator determined that this project was carbon negative, meaning that we collected and stored more carbon than was expended over the course of the project. For more details, please download this detailed PDF.
OUR RESEARCH COLLABORATORS
CAPTURE involved intensive research into carbon capture and storage. From 2019-2020 we collaborated with many international institutions and worked in the field alongside scientists and researchers including in the Amazon and Panama jungles. We would like to thank all of the organisations involved. Thanks to the Port Phillip EcoCentre, LabVerde Artist Immersion Program in the Amazon (Brazil), INPA (The National Institute of Amazonian Research), the Digital Naturalism Lab (Panama) and the contributing scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama).
Betty Sargeant ~ Artist
Justin Dwyer ~ Artist and music composer
This project has been supported by the City of Port Phillip through the Rupert Bunny Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship.
RELATED CARBON ART AND ECO ARTWORKS
CAPTURE is part of a wider body of work. Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer (PluginHUMAN) have created numerous environmental artworks and light sculptures that provide audiences with immersive and interactive experiences. These include the immersive light installation BREATHE and the projection mapping video artwork CONCEAL.
PluginHUMAN is a multi-award-winning art duo led by Dr Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer. PluginHUMAN are at the progressive edge of their field, providing audiences with new cultural, environmental and scientific perspectives. Their artworks address the leading questions and concerns of our times.
PluginHUMAN’s real time art centres around the art of illumination. They create projection mapping, video artworks, and led immersive multi-sensory environments. They use the medium of light to translate complex data into meaningful audience experiences.
PluginHUMAN has created commissioned artworks for institutions such as the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (Taiwan), the Asia Culture Centre (South Korea), Questacon (Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre), the Melbourne Museum (White Night Festival, Australia) and Experimenta (Australian triennial touring media art exhibition). They have exhibited in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. PluginHUMAN were awarded the Rupert Bunny Foundation Visual Art Fellowship (2019/20); they’re developing new carbon neutral and carbon negative materials and working methods. They have also won Good Design Awards (2020 and 2018), and a Victorian Premier’s Design Award (2017).
PluginHUMAN has an acute understanding of the role that technology plays in contemporary society. They reimagine new technologies to produce artistic innovations, creating meaningful large and small scale audience experiences for indoor spaces and outdoor public arenas. They specialise in immersive and interactive art environments.