BIOS Zone 1: umbilical affinities

Flasks sit, filled with unknown fluids. Tubes move liquid in and out, powered by an array of pumps. Signals arrive, signals are sent. Information is interpreted, and information is recorded.

In umbilical affinities a series of pump systems distribute photosynthetic materials through light and dark, through triggers and sensors. Information from these systems is relayed to distant receivers, and information generated within these systems transmits throughout BIOS.



The work is a collaboration between ThoTho and AwhiWorld that developed while thinking about the extreme degrees of entanglement and co-dependencies inherent in life on earth and between human and digital systems.

It also evolved out of discussions with SEADS as to how to send and receive signals in the BIOS lab in collaboration with Biomodd ABD14

umbilical affinities offers a simple set of systems, yet even within this simplicity, unfathomable and unpredictable variation occurs.

The work was catalysed by a meditation on the many hours Alan Thomas has spent in laboratories carefully pumping nutrients to nurture living cells, and Kim Newall has carefully nurtured the flow of electrons in computer circuits. Within PlantLab 2022 ThoTho and Awhi World collaborations explored the fundamental importance of photosynthesis in shaping our world. It was a natural extension to explore those processes further within BIOS.

In living organisms, cellular processes, similar to computer BIOS, regulate respiration, digestion, and circulation. This ‘BIOS of the organism’ underpins higher-level functions.

umbilical affinities is the guts of the BIOS event, allowing us to consider the guts of the building itself as extended human phenotype—and the fundamental processes regulating what’s inside and what’s outside the tubes that are our bodies and, at macro and micro levels, in all the living world around us.

A key aspect of the installation was the interwoven relationship between organic matter, signal, code and light. Seven circuit boards and optical sensors ‘read’ the tubes, differentiating between air and liquid\light and dark sequences.

The mobile unit captured and transformed these signals into 2D and 3D visualisations and sounds. Random patterns of matter pumped through tubes generated constantly changing signals translated into visuals projected into the space and sounds used during performances. (They were also sent to SEADS to incorporate in virtual worlds)

This process parallels the ecology of places today: signal, code, living and non-living, digital and physical things.

For over a thousand years, cyanobacteria have been grown as a food source, from Kanem’s empire in Chad to Aztec harvesting of Texococo Lake in Mexico, through to the current use of Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) as a “superfood”.

In umbilical affinities Spirulina cultures and filtered extracts of Spirulina blue photosynthetic pigment circulate through gallery space, through light and dark, through human perception and outside of human perception.

Most life on earth is dependent on photosynthesis, yet it is a weird process to contemplate. In the plant, molecular antennae capture light from the sun, creating an exciton that exhibits quantum properties.

Meaning: it exists in many places at once and takes all possible routes simultaneously to get from one place to another.

Image by Alan Thomas
Image by Alan Thomas

Visiting BIOS

umbilical affinities was in Zone 1 of BIOS

Map only2-01

Q & A

In BIOS we used materials found in everyday life. With that in mind, the fluids originated in supermarket-bought Spirulina powder, a “superfood” often used to make smoothies.

The green liquid is Spirulina powder mixed with water. The blue liquid is made from the same mixture but after centrifugation and filtration to remove undissolved material.

The blue colour is one of the photosynthetic pigments in Spirulina, and you’ll notice that, because it is fluorescent, it looks blue in some lights and purple in others.

There was also some mangrove distillation in the pumps added halfway through the lab.

There is air in the tubes, and because of the pumping the arrangement of liquid and air is chaotically changing. To capture this optical sensors constantly measure the passage of light across the tubing, sending signals over a network to SEADS installations overseas. We are also receiving signals and researching where these can interact with BIOS.

The pumps work by a process called peristalsis, the same as happens in your intestines to move food along. The walls of the tube are rapidly squeezed and released by moving wheels that force the liquid along.

The pulsing is the squeeze and release made evident, and the speed up and slow down are pressure waves moving through up to 50 metres of tubing in a chaotic fashion.

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