The Underground Project

The Underground Project is a set of enquiries into future living in the face of environmental change. Environmental ecosystems are being transformed as a result of humans consuming an the earth's natural resources and destroying ecosystems at an alarming rate.

 

In the last two years my practice has seen me re-shift my focus to explore the environmental crisis and how we are adapting, coping and responding in the face of environmental change.

During the last 10-12 weeks of being in lockdown I have taken my producer hat off and firmly placed my artistic hat back on. I have begun designing a project titled The Underground Project (subject to change as always) I want to try and learn about how nature is adapting to the changes of the environment that are caused by human activity. this blog will document my thinking and process.

 

The narrative around environmentalism can be really hard to understand unless new ways to engage with nature on an emotional level are carved out of the landscape. How can we talk about environmental issues without feeling hopelessness, frustration, shame, guilt or disconnect?

 

Our environmental ecosystems are being transformed as a result of humans consuming the earth's natural resources at an alarming rate. Plastic pollution, air pollution and environmental destruction are some of the biggest threats to the future of this planet. The planet has always been incredible at repairing the damage caused by humans, but it cannot give promise to the future of humanity anymore, some leading scientists have started warning of the end of human civilisation within the next 100-200 years, that's fucked! 

 

As the world population continues to demand more from the depleting planet, led by a capitalism, we really must act quickly and deeply listen to the minority of people who have always lived in harmony with nature and understand its inherent value when treated properly. This will allow us to see where we are going wrong and offer up solutions that we really need, because this way is clearly not working. 

 

I have started to identify certain aspects of how the natural world can reverse the human impact. One example of this is a fungi called Aspergillus Tubingensis - a fungi that breaks down plastic. It was found in a landfill site in Islamabad, Pakistan. Mycologists - a person who studies the science of fungi - have learned that it did not need oxygen to survive meaning that it could be left underground with all the plastic waste to very slowly break it down. With an estimated 90% of the worlds plants depending on fungus to provide valuable nutrients and protection it has made me curious to find out more about types of mycelium networks that scientists say are only 7% discoved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have become fascinated with common mycelium networks and the way they communicate underground. All this exchange of information (e.g symbiont recognition, quorum sensing, allelopathy) is thought to be chemical in nature, and people's impression of soil is that it is dark and quiet, this is not the case. 

 

After speaking with mycologists from The International Biodeterioration Biodegradation Society, Cranfield University, UWE and the British Mycological Society it has become clear that there are many other microorganisms that are capable of breaking down plastics (at least to some extent). My initial research has led me to try and understand how micro-plastics are impacting the communication of subterranean microorganisms and how we might capture this behaviour change.

 

Plastic pollution and the underground internet

My research begins by exploring land pollution, focusing on plastic pollution. Due to the unnatural form and lack of degradability of plastic, it has become a major environmental polluter and global health hazard. FYI Coca-cola is the world's worst plastic polluter! Microplastics are now to be found in the air we breathe, the produce we consume and the water we drink. Microplastics have been found on top of some of the world's highest mountains and deep in the Mariana Trench (the deepest part of the ocean) which is 7 miles deep! How are living organisms adapting to this polluting intruder, and what is the impact of plastic doing to human chemical makeup and behavior? 

 

Plastic is made from natural gas, crude oil, coal and is found across all parts of our supply chain; from packaging our food, making household items, or fabricating vehicles, plastic is everywhere! This human-made micro-polluter is having a macro impact on all of our ecosystems, which in turn is impacting the water we drink, the food we eat, our mental and physical health and the way communities and individuals are adapting and living throughout the world. Our reliance on plastic is absolutely huge and for me this is scary. 

 

We have all seen the heartbreaking images of animals wrapped in plastic bags, birds dying after ingesting plastic after thinking it was food. This is the awful reality that makes many of us feel guilty and helpless. This will only get worse if we carry on as we are doing right now. However, there is also another reality that even some of the world's leading scientists have described as hardly touched. Beneath our feet is a whole wood wide web of communication that we are yet to tap into and fully understand. The ground we walk on actually regulates the temperature and air quality of the planet, this is because it is a living network of insects, roots, fungus, bacteria and algae that work together in a symbiotic manner. 

 

My inquiry has started to understand the biological aspects of common mycelium networks - the underground internet. By exploring the symbiotic relationships in this subterrarium world, the aim would be to set up some experiments to decode and translate the language and behaviors of this network. The aim would be to use the data collected from the experiments to create a digital model that will allow for interaction between human and mycelium on very simple levels using advances in sound and visual technologies such as eco-acoustics, confocal microscopy and context aware projection mapping. 

If any of the above is of interest to you then please get in contact - hello@lukusrobbins.co.uk

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