The Algae Society Bio Art Design Lab

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The Algae Society is a global collective of interdisciplinary researchers working together to establish a new community with algae as a non-human international research partner. As a working group of artists, scientists and scholars, we’ve focused our efforts to collaborate, cooperate, experiment, design and exhibit with algae. Our collaboration is a novel approach aiming to benefit and educate the public on the importance of symbiotic human-algal relationships highlighting algae as the unsung hero of the planet responsible for producing 50% of our oxygen. We seek to ignite new research and communication across the globe that transcends disciplines and invites compassionate connections with these living organisms. Each exhibition includes new works created and curated by The Algae Society with the intention to spark effective actions of change that shift human behavior. These exhibitions have reached thousands of people, and have been featured at international galleries, museums and the COP25 climate conference in Madrid. We create interdisciplinary, multimedia bridges for understanding these more-than-human organisms, generating curiosity and wonder among participants and viewers. Here we briefly share our evolving interdisciplinary process and highlight four artistic works from Algae Society founding members while reflecting on each researcher’s aim, process, materiality, and aesthetic considerations. We endeavor for these interactive educational experiences to ignite societal behavioral shifts and direct action in response to the challenges that algal-human ecosystems face under climate change. 

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Since January 2018

Sites and Institutions
Art Department, UC Santa Cruz
MOXI, Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation
Global Climate and Health Summit, COP25
Art Dept, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Posthuman PUBLICS Laboratory, RMIT
OpenLab, UC Santa Cruz
SymbioArtlab, UC Santa Cruz
CoAction Lab, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
SciArtica, Queensland College of Art

Interdisciplinary Algae Art + Science Collaboration Environmental Art Sustainability Art As Research


Biology Art Microbiology Digital Media Arts

  • Oceanic Scales is a multimedia and interactive project by Gene Felice and Jennifer Parker to immerse visitors in the functioning of algae within our ecosystem.
  • Collaborations with Algae is a time-lapse performance that features a painting collaborations by artist Juniper Harrower with algae collected across different locations. Original soundtrack by Jacob Harrower.
  • Reverberating Futures in an immersive film by Fiona Hillary that promotes connection to and understanding of bioluminescent algae.
  • Bleaching Pocillopora by David Harris and Jose Carlos Espinel is a multimedia data-driven installation that investigates coral bleaching and revival simulations in the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Algae Society Bio Art Design Lab -MOXI Museum 2019
    UCSC OpenLab -

(The below text is copied from the "Stage_2_Narrative PDF" that is attached above)

Stage 2 Narrative

Art is a powerful force for social change, both as an inquiry-based practice and as a platform to share complex environmental issues with a diverse public which has the potential to influence the behaviors of citizens1-5. Recognizing this, The Algae Society is an international group of art and science researchers that foster interdisciplinary approaches to address current environmental challenges.Through shared vocabularies and open-ended explorations, we shape experiences that engage diverse publics while aiming to shift culture towards sustainable practices. A scientifically literate public is necessary to devise solutions and implement approaches that slow environmental destruction, but only when facts are integrated with emotional responses are people compelled to make changes4,5.

Our evolving interdisciplinary hybrids incorporate contributions from scientists and artists working within their specializations while cultivating the fertile spaces in between disciplines. We draw from a multispecies and companion species studies approach to promote empathy for more-than-human species, creating frameworks for considering new ways of conceptualizing cohabitation on this planet6,7. Building on previous interdisciplinary scholarship8-12, we collaborate for large-scale public outreach, creating space for problem solving and community actions for agal stewardship. Inspired by innovative initiatives and programs integrating arts and science4,10,12 we create hands-on engagement opportunities with algal ecosystems at various international institutions. The Algae Society interdisciplinary process brings international participants together to discuss and explore current research about algal ecosystems. Scientists share their research, clarify data, and co-act with artists through a shared vocabulary and trust that is built over time. Artists ask explorative questions and translate information through story, metaphor and abstraction while workshopping engagement strategies with researchers and the public. The development of interactive media for a global audience results in public installations that aim to aesthetically and emotionally connect us to algae while also promoting environmental stewardship.

The following Algae Society contributions addressing these themes were featured at various international museums and galleries, and the COP25 climate conference in Madrid from 2018-2019.

Oceanic Scales engages visitors to explore their role in maintaining a stable ocean ecology through a multi-sensory, interactive art and science puzzle inspired by the microorganisms of the sea. Aiming to encourage sustainable social change, we immerse the public in a data-driven, interactive ocean ecosystem to reflect on and better understand how we impact the environment at local and global scales. Light, scent, sound and touch inspire new ways of thinking about ocean health. Oceanic Scales promotes learning and collaboration, focusing the lens on phytoplankton, the first link in the oceanic food chain. Developed to illustrate the role of phytoplankton as an essential, interconnected part of our planetary ecosystem, it allures with the promise of new understanding and empathy.

Collaborations with Algae is a time-lapse performance, reaching beyond a poetic gesture through featuring a painting collaboration between algal organisms and a human. Using algae oil and powdered algae collected from different environmental locations, algae is mixed with paint to create a new art medium. Here the algal organisms influence the materiality and behavior of the paint movements in addition to the aesthetic decisions by the artist which are driven by data on algal blooms from the different collection locations. The evolving organic shapes represent both the microscopic algal forms and also macroscopic large-scale patterns at algal bloom sites. Beginning pieces symbolize healthy algal ecosystems while the later paintings take on the coloration of toxic algal blooms thus demonstrating a spectrum of different environmental states under the impacts of human influence.

Reverberating Futures is an immersive sound and film work that creates a unique space for contemplation. By abstracting ordinary experiences, it encourages audiences to encounter the possibility of recuperation in the age of the Anthropocene. Learning to culture and live with bioluminescent dinoflagellates in the laboratory and field promotes a connection to and understanding of algae as companion species. This research approach involves documenting Noctiluca scintillans and other dinoflagellates through image, sound and film, creating digital representations of the research process which allows viewers and researchers to consider the effect of algal blooms and what the blooms may actually mean. This work generates awe and wonder of the blooms, creating an effective impact similar to a Siren luring a sailor to their demise - the Siren-like beauty of the bioluminescent glow lures us into the reality of climate driven environmental destruction.

Bleaching Pocillopora is a multimedia installation investigating coral bleaching and revival simulations based on Great Barrier Reef bleaching event data. Over time, the cumulative cycles (never fully recovering during each) lead to the permanent bleaching of the reef. The color palette is based on Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year “Living Coral” in a data-generated projection onto a sculptural coral form. The coral is cast in plaster as a modular relief of 9x9 inch tile-like pieces, created from 3D prints based on underwater photogrammetry models. The 10-minute video illumination evolves from a rich color to a bleached white as the symbiotic relationship between coral and the algae that provide the characteristic color is disrupted. This installation provides viewers an opportunity to engage with the complex data in a visual and emotionally moving way.

Through these and several other interactive installations, we find that art and science together, connects people in personal and transformative ways by promoting different ways of knowing algae ecosystem research, hopefully empowering new directions for research, public engagement and action. Art is a powerful science communication strategy not to be minimized as it provides a critically important way for people to emotionally process, integrate, and move through the desensitizing response that often accompanies the outpouring of devastating environmental news11. As arts researchers we promote this important message, but have also found growth through interdisciplinary interactions that prompt consideration of how we approach research within our arts practices. As scientists working in conversations with artists, we find enhanced emotional connections, creativity and novel problem solving strategies in our science research1,13, benefits that agree with other findings2,3,4,10,12. Moving forward, we will continue to evolve interdisciplinary processes in our research seeking opportunities for collaboration to better understand how art and science processes can influence each other, while also endeavoring to connect people emotionally to current environmental issues and motivate stewardship. 





We thank UC Santa Cruz Art Department and Universidad Complutense de Madrid for funding support.