The audience enters a pitch-black room with millions of invisible organisms floating above their heads. They’re invited to speak, and if they do their voice will excite the bioluminescent dinoflagellate [pyrocistis] into bio-illuminating. Their blue glow swarms the shape of the waters sound waves created by the user’s voice. Therefore, if you ask “what’s the shape of water?”, the dinoflagellates will tell you.
“What is the Shape of Water?” is part of a series of cross-species artworks allowing humans and non-humans to interact. There are three versions documented at Light City in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for ISEA 2020 in Montreal. The first is as described above where the human speaks into a microphone connected to a system that triggers an arduino-driven ripple tank exciting the dinoflagellates bioillumination. The second version is a live vocalist, Bonnie Landers, who sang an improvisational chant, creating a 20-minute dialog with the live ancient critters. The vocalist creates a loop where she and the dinoflagellates react to each other. Finally, a third use of the system allows the dinoflagellate [pyrocistis] to bio-illuminate according to their own DNA. An algorithm transcribed the organisms DNA into a six-hour audio composition triggering the tank’s system exciting the organisms.
Lisa Moren is a multi-disciplinary artist who has lead projects in virtual and augmented reality and created pigments out of polluted waterways including BPs Deep Water Horizon rig spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico. Her work with marine biologist Dr. Tsvetan Bachvaroff includes cross-species artwork using bio-phenomena, DNA and live data from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Lisa has exhibited her art world-wide including at the Chelsea Art Museum; Ars Electronica; and Akademie der Kunste; venues in Australia, Japan and South Africa. She received the National Endowment for the Arts award, is a J William Fulbright Scholar; and recipient of awards including R.W. Deutsch; and a two-year Saul Zaentz Innovation Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in Performance Research; Visible Language; Inter Arts Actuel; New Media Caucus and Issues in Contemporary Theory. Lisa Moren is a Professor in the MFA program in Intermedia+Digital Art at UMBC.
In addition to receiving his Certificate in Emergency Medical Services and serving as a Paramedic with the Baltimore City Fire Department for four years, Tsvetan Bachvaroff received his B.A. degree from Johns Hopkins University and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland College Park. He was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Center of Marine Biotechnology and subsequently with the Smithsonian Institution. He assumed his present position in 2013 as Research Assistant Professor for the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) at The University System of Maryland.
Presently his research is focused on dinoflagellate evolution with special emphasis on the parasitic dinoflagellates, using large scale sequencing and phylogenetic methods to describe the evolutionary history of different types of genes in dinoflagellates.