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.
As we know, plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to the future of ecosystems on this planet. As we continue to demand more from the depleting planet, we must act quickly and find new ways to create a narrative that identifies and changes all forms of societal inequalities when talking about plastic pollution. Trying to better our understanding of environmental issues can be very difficult, especially as the language is often complex, top down and this excludes too many voices, mainly the people and environments most impacted.
We must also try to understand how other living organisms are dealing with microplastics in the sea, on the land and in the air.
What can we learn from listening to the natural world's response to plastic? How can we communicate this research in playful, understandable, engaging, emotional, inclusive and unusual ways? This is what I am hoping to find out, I will share my research and process on this blog.
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, 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. This initial data collected from the underground experiments will map out ways to communicate complex environmental research through unusual art experiences using advances in sound and visual technologies such as spatial sound and projection mapping.
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.
There is a specific type of fungi that has been discovered and isolated from a waste disposal site located in Islamabad, Pakistan. This fungus can break down plastic. 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 sub terrarium microorganisms and how we might capture this behaviour change.
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