Mick Lorusso

Together We Make Light: The Light of Microbial Schöppingen


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Weather_clouds+Energy  Weather_clouds=Light  Weather_cloudsBacteria  Weather_cloudsBioenergy  Weather_cloudsHeterotopia  Weather_cloudsHolon  Weather_cloudsMicrobial_Fuel_Cell  

0ef86ba12b99c2bf1e5a9747196da74d1328660048 Microbial Schöppingen, a model based on Schöppingen in the year 1600, acts as a parallel town where communities of bacteria, one of the most ancient life-forms on earth, inhabit Plexiglas houses where they work together to create light.

Bacterial communities are diverse, much like human communities, and each type of bacteria can perform a number of different functions within their society. In Microbial Schöppingen, certain bacteria will make an electrical current as they break carbohydrates down into smaller molecules, namely carbon dioxide and hydrogen. These anaerobic bacteria, meaning they live in spaces without oxygen, will gradually build biofilms, thin groupings of bacteria stuck together, on graphite electrodes (1). Each anaerobic house connects to a neighboring oxygenated house, which contains a salt solution to increase its conductivity. Protons, also known as hydrogen ions, travel through the solution from the anaerobic chamber (negatively charged, called an anode) to the oxygenated chamber (positively charged, called a cathode). The electrons that the bacteria release as they eat collect on the graphite electrodes and push their way through the wire and the resistor toward the cathode. Once these bacteria have developed a strong habit of eating in this way and releasing electrons and protons in the process, they can be harnessed to create small currents of electricity. The technology is known as a Microbial Fuel Cell.

Researchers at the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology (LabMET) in Ghent are currently helping me make these Microbial Fuel Cells function more efficiently. When we met, they described a variety of applications that Microbial Fuel Cells could have: making bio fuels and plastics, recharging off shore ocean sensors, and cleaning wastewater. In my first Microbial Fuel Cell, I used mud from the Vechte, which produced a miniscule current of electricity for about a week. In the next phase, I seek to combine Vechte mud with already “trained” electricity-producing bacteria from LabMET. New cultures will arise from this union, and eventually I will fill 22 houses with these cultures, paired with 22 chambers of oxygenated water, which will also probably contain some oxygen loving (aerobic) bacteria that help catalyze the process. They will all labor and eat together to produce lights for the Altes Rathaus and the Church of Saint Brictus. To keep them going I will feed them combinations of sugar, vinegar, and select food scraps, such as ground potato peelings and peanut shells.

As I build Microbial Schöppingen, I have been engraving some of the Plexiglas panels with architectural details and expressive abstractions, which I then use to make prints. These prints deconstruct the Microbial Schöppingen and provide a record of the process of the making of this parallel town. Inspired by a local bronze model that depicts Schöppingen in 1600 surrounded by walls that form an organic, cell-like shape, I decided to construct a version of the old town. Its concentric walls that embrace little houses provide a visual reference for the idea of holarchy (2), in which a system of interacting wholes (called holons) are imbedded parts of more complex holons. The cells inside our bodies are great examples of holarchy, in which tiny ancient bacteria became the unique functional components of each large human cell. Some of them produce energy, others store data, and others clean and regulate the cell. They are holons within another holon (the cell) and our cells are holons within our organs, making a fraction of an ever-expanding holarchy. In the same way, Microbial Schöppingen can be seen as a collaboration of cells, an organ, a body, a town, and even a galactic system, depending on one’s perspective.

The model town could be described as a Utopia, and alternately as a Heterotopia, a term developed by Michel Foucault to describe places and times that operate on the fringes of hegemonic society: pockets of otherness that give us a glimpse into the underlying dynamics of society (3). As a Utopia, Microbial Schöppingen imagines a sustainable Schöppingen on a tiny scale, a place where its inhabitants create electricity from waste, sugars, and acids. But it might be more accurate to see Microbial Schöppingen as a Heterotopia, since it reflects on a hidden and often rejected layer of our world: the world of tiny unicellular beings that cooperate with each other and with us to do millions of things, which we often judge as good or bad. This world exists parallel to our own daily, ordered, reality. Long before we developed the Internet, bacteria developed the first efficient information exchange technology in the double helix of DNA. They, unlike us, can directly exchange and recombine DNA while they live, allowing them to adapt and evolve rapidly (4). And we can learn from them in many ways if we observe them. They can give us new insights into our technologies, our waste management issues, our body systems, our architecture, and even our social systems. On a fundamental level, they remind us of the versatility that all life has in harnessing and transforming energy.

Like the bacteria in Microbial Schöppingen, we work together to pool our energy and our ideas. We evolve in our ways of communicating and using resources. We can transform our hearts and minds and bring light into the areas of our lives that lie hidden or rejected. That which seems dirty and useless to us can reappear as something glowing with value if we look deep enough and break out of conditioned ways of seeing. Humanity is at an important threshold point, and if we look to the other, more ancient species on our planet for guidance we may find many beautiful suggestions of how to deal with our current ecological and social crises. Together we may sustain the light at the core of all life.

References in text:
1 Graphite electrodes will include graphite felt generously donated by the SGL group, and graphite granules bought from Mersen.

2 A term coined by Arthur Koestler that Elisabet Sahtouris uses to describe a hopeful perspective on human co-evolution with the planet: Sahtouris, Elisabet. Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution. San Jose: iUniversity Press, 2000.

3 Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces”. Utopias: Documents of Contemporary Art. Ed.
Noble, Richard. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2009.

4 Sahtouris, Elisabet. Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution. San Jose: iUniversity Press, 2000. pg. 45.

Galerieansicht aller Bilder

Für Grossansicht klicken Sie auf das Bild

On the right, is the Anode (negatively charged). It contains mud from the Vecte, a river that runs by Schöppingen, which supplies some of the anaerobic bacteria that can create electricity. In the left house, salt water conducts positive charge that travels through the salt bridge (tube). As the bacteria eats organic matter, it releases protons and electrons, creating an electrical current.

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Mick Lorusso

Together We Make Light: The Light of Microbial Schöppingen




San Francisco Art Institute, MFA, sculpture.

The Colorado College B.A. (magna cum laude).
o Studio Art major, Italian minor.

Künstlerdorf Schöppingen KWW Residency, Nov, Dec, Feb.& March, Schöppingen,Germany.
Colorado Art Ranch Residency, September & October, Paonia, CO.
Outstanding Graduate Student Award, San Francisco Art Institute Sculpture Department
Student Recognition Award, San Francisco Art Institute

Craig Hearst Art Prize Scholarship.
o Funds studio work for one outstanding senior art major at Colorado College.

Initiative Grant and Venture Grant.
o Used to research murals of Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco in Mexico.

Boettcher Scholarship.
o Full tuition and expenses paid at Colorado College


Solo Exhibitions/Commissions
Essence of Light/Essence of Life. Form Space Atelier, Seattle, WA

Garrison and Garrison Books. San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico.

Verite Coffee/Cupcake Royal, West Seattle, WA.

Smart Savings. Verite Coffee/ Cupcake Royal, Ballard. Seattle, WA.
Transience Transcends. Freemont Coffee Company. Seattle, WA.
Cosecha de Luz. Museum of The City of Queretaro. Queretaro, Mexico.

Mick Lorusso: Paintings. Brooklyn Gallery. Seattle, WA.
Mick Lorusso: New Paintings and Sculptures. El Ojo Azul Gallery. San Miguel, GTO, Mexico.

Transforming Tuttlet, Tutt Library. Colorado Springs, CO.

Group Exhibitions/Commissions
The Creamery, Hotchkiss, CO.
Vernissage, San Francisco Art Institute MFA Thesis Exhibition. San Francisco, CA.
Society of 23 Biennial. Diego Rivera Gallery. San Francisco, CA.

Traces of Systems. Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
The Expanse Between Our Arms Together. Swell Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
Symbolic Flow. Sub-Mission Gallery. San Francisco, CA.
Spare and Austere. City Hall, San Francisco, CA.
Lapse. LoBot Gallery, Oakland, CA.

Artists of Artech. Wright Exhibition Space. Seattle, WA.
Where else? (Swell’s Where). Swell Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
The Drawing Show. Diego Rivera Gallery, San Francisco, CA.
Temperatura Al Tope. Centro Cultural El Nigromante, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Estacionarte. 4th annual itinerant urban art show. Mexico D.F., Mexico.

Virgenes y Madonas. Generator Gallery. San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico.
Recycled Art and Fashion Show VI. New York Fashion Academy, Seattle, WA.
An Exhibit of Robert Storr’s Autograph & Other Work. Form/Space Atelier. Seattle, WA.

Mutiny. Artech, Seattle, WA.
Contdown/Build 2 Destroy. Form/Space Atelier. Seattle, WA.
PONCHO art auction. Seattle,WA.

Recyled Art Show. Re-Store and New York Fashion Academy. Seattle, WA.
Visions at the Crossing. Two person show. Fort Lewis College Art Gallery. Durango, CO.
10 Artists, 1 Night. Brooklyn Gallery. Seattle, WA.
Christmas Show. Galeria El Patio, San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico.
Collective Illusions. Coburn Gallery. Colorado Springs, CO.
Someone. Collaborative installation. Whitney Gallery, Colorado Springs, CO.