WaterLilly 20 is a small scale photo-bioreactor (PBR) to grow blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). In other words, it’s a box that contains a glass sphere with a water based solution inoculated with living micro-algae and their growing medium, a lighting system to enhance photosynthetic activity, and a bubbling system to provide carbon dioxide and agitate the solution to avoid foiling on the glass walls.
One of the tangible goals of the project is air purification. The photosynthetic activity fix significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) normally released in the indoor environments by plastic materials, printers, and clothes. Another tangible goal is the production of valuable algal biomass. Depending on the type of algae inoculated, every week, the WaterLilly 20 produces a variable amount of wet algal biomass (approximately 50-150 cc). This biomass can be used as food, feed, compost, or raw material for bio-plastic compounds and natural dyes. An interesting cyanobacteria to grow is Spirulina, catalogued superfood by the FAO. Because of its high contents of proteins, Vitamin B1, B2, B3, poli-unsatured-phatty-acids (PUFA), copper, iron and other nutrients, it can be used as a valuable food supplement to integrate diets in order to get significant benefits on health.
The WaterLilly20 also has the intangible goal of activating human consciousness. The bubbling enlightened green water solution is a trap for the eye that creates a sort of hypnotic state of general relaxation in which time loses meaning and the mind enjoys a form of archaic fascination of natural wonders while reflecting on the brevity of human presence on Earth (only a few tens of thousands of years) compared to the most ancient living creatures (a few billion years). Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are among the first living organisms appeared on Earth almost four billion years ago. They are the simplest organisms, the most fragile, yet the most resistant. They are responsible of the Oxygen Catastrophe that close to three billions years ago created the atmospheric conditions for the life of later creatures, including humans. They were here much before humans, and will stay much longer. It’s an evidence of how nature is much stronger than us. It’s an evidence of how saying that humans are destroying the planet is an anthropocentric and arrogant statement. What humans are really pursuing is the suicide mission of destroying the conditions for them to stay longer on this planet.
WaterLilly is the staring point of a larger process that continues through the transformation of the algal biomass into algal-ink collected in 200 cc jars (LillyJars), and ends up in the creation of algal drawings (PaperLillies). The entire process is a celebration of human ingenuity and the claim for a collaborative design practice in which humans and nature celebrate a love affair, instead of practising a suicide design strategy in which humans try unsuccessfully to overcome nature.
Materials: bleech wood, glass, Mylar, electronics, blue-green algae
Cesare Griffa with Silvio De Iaco and Stefania Totis