Symbiotic Systems workshop

Posted May 29, 2016 by Theun Karelse

Artist Ivan Henriques led this two day workshop starting with a nice extensive introduction to his work in creating hybrid systems like Jurema Action Plant, Symbiotic Machine and his recent Cavarel.

The first day started with terrible weather. Luckily we had a fantastic introduction to ecology through Skype by Matthew Creasey who participated in the Cornwall workshop. In his presentation he explored the ecology of machines in the wilderness. His thoughts are published in more detail in this blog post. We found having an expert tele-present works really well and what could fit better to Machine Wilderness that a Skype ecologist?!

After lunch the sky looked brighter and we set out for an exploration of the Amstelpark’s varied landscapes and what symbiotic systems we could imagine there. Not from a viewpoint of environmental-engineering, but from the perspective that technological systems and infrastructures are already intertwined with landscapes but not very symbiotically. Our systems and infrastructures are predominantly and perhaps progressively not designed to share that space, but dominate it. The extent of this may be illustrated by the fact that we’re discussing weather our dominance deserves to be named as a new epoch; the Anthropocene. Machine Wilderness and Ivan’s Symbiotic Systems workshop re-imagines this power-balance by prototyping participating systems. Through participation we may relate more intimately and more holistically with biotic environments, ecological flows and their energy regimes.


On the second day scientist Vincent Friebe of Biosolar Cells with the help of solar cells expert Dr. Magdalena Marszalek introduced us to technology that bridges biological and man-made energy regimes: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). He gave a fast and furious reminder of photosynthesis and set participants out on a mission to collect pigment/dye from sources in Amstelpark like flowers, fruits, and leaves that grow there. The team went out and soon spread all over the park kneeling and bending over possible pigment sources.

We used these materials and incorporated them into dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC). The pigment is extracted by grinding the material to a pulp with a mortar and pestle, with liquid nitrogen if needed, which makes the material brittle and easy to pulverize down to a fine powder. Water or acetone is added to the pulp, which is then strained through a cheese cloth to extract the pigment in a liquid form. The resulting dyes were kept in little jars and catalogued, and then painted aquarelle style on the substrates. Functionality was assessed by measuring voltage and current, with rather spectacular results!