28 02 2009


The conference call and associated texts ask us to reflect on extreme environments and the extremophiles that inhabit them, understanding such things as indicators and vectors for the mutations that constitute biological change. The goal of our presentation is to extend this concept, to use the language of mutamorphosis,to link biological, environmental and cultural change and to explore how shifts in the space of the artist studio are occurring in the context of social and scientific exploration within their work. Referencing the work of two London based artists – Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist, as well as an emerging project being developed in northeast Brasil, we explore the notion that artist-scientists are increasingly becoming extremophiles, in the sense that many of them are seeking extreme natural and cultural environments in which to develop their work. In doing so we suggest a renewal of engagement by these artists with the notion of crisis – a pointwhere it becomes critical, in their view, to assert the presence of art and artists within conditions of social and environmental change. Often the goal of these artist-scientists is to imagine and achieve beneficial environmental, ecological and cultural impact . But this is by no means a given. If “science looks and observes and art see and foresees,” (Gabo, 1937:9) what can the combining of these disciplines mean in the context of extreme conditions?

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28 02 2009

matt ratto

Matt Ratto, USA, Research Fellow at University of Umea, HUMlab, History of Ideas,, matt.ratto(at)

Matt Ratto is a member of the Humlab and a visiting researcher in the History of Ideas department at Umea University, Sweden. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Science Technology and Society at Santa Clara University and a research affiliate with the Metamedia Collaboratory at Stanford University. His research examines how information technologies are involved in the processes by which cultures, societies, and institutions simultaneously make sense of the world and work to construct and organize it. Mailing Address: Umeå University, 901 87 UMEÅ, Sweden.


Bronac Ferran, Northern Irish, Director at, Interdisciplinary Arts Research Agency,, bronac(at)

Bronac Ferran is Director of an Interdisciplinary Research Agency – – which works internationally on projects and events related to the relationship between art and other disciplines and in the gaps between research and the public domain. She was previously Director of Interdisciplinary Arts at Arts Council England where she initiated and organised a number of initiatives relating to art and ecology, art and law, art and science and art and technology. She is currently working with the Royal College of Art and Imperial College in London setting up an interdisciplinary lab and organising a research exchange event in Sao Paulo in December for the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK.


24 02 2009


Petrobrás, the Brazilian National Oil Company, built a pipeline in Western Amazonia to transport crude oil from the Urucu river production region to a terminal in the vicinities of Coari, a city located on the right margin of the Solimões river. Tankers then ship the oil to another terminal in Manaus, capital of the Amazonas State. Between dry and wet seasons, water level dramatic changes in the Solimões River reach up to 14 meters This strong seasonal character of the Amazonian climate gives rise to four distinct scenarios in the annual hydrological cycle: low water, high water, receding water and rising water. These scenarios constitute the framework for the definition of oil spill response planning in the region, since flooded forest and flooded vegetation are the most sensitive fluvial environments to oil spills.

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24 02 2009

Tia Sussa

Lucia Santaella, Brazilian, born in 1944, is full professor at São Paulo Catholic University (Pucsp). Head of the post-graduate program in Technologies of Intelligence and Digital Design and director of CIMID, Research Center in Digital Media, Pucsp, she is one of the honorary Presidents of the Latin-American Federation of Semiotics and correspondent member of the Argentinian Academy of Fine Arts. She has been elected President of the Charles S. Peirce Society, USA, for 2007. She has published 29 and edited 10 books.

José Wagner Garcia, Brazilian, born in 1956, is an architect, artist and researcher. He got his PhD in Art, Science and Technology and is presently the artistic director of the research project Cognitus (Cenpes, Center of Research of Petrobras, the Brazilian Oil Company).


13 01 2009


Boo Chapple is an artist and researcher whose work focuses on processes of material-technical transformation that operate at the boundary between life and non-life, bodies and culture. She holds a Masters of Design from RMIT University and has recently completed a year long residency at the SymbioticA art and science collaborative research laboratory, in the School of Anatomy and Human Biology, at the University of Western Australia. Her work has been exhibited at the Beijing Biennale of Architecture, and in an exhibition of Australian sound art at the San Francisco MoMA. Her recent essay ‘Journeys to the Other Side of the Navel’ has been published in a forthcoming book ‘Art of the Biotech Era’. Boo is currently employed as Artist in Residence in the Designing the Future Program at RMIT.


13 01 2009


In this paper I will be discussing work that has been developed in the context of the Biospatial Project, an interdisciplinary design education initiative at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. The project is directed by Pia Ednie-Brown and brings together students from Architecture, Fashion Design and Environmental Science around issues of sustainability, with the key tenet being that sustainability should not necessarily invoke a sense of holding onto things as they are, but rather, a more thorough engagement with the poetics and politics of material transformation. My official role in the project has been ‘Artist in Residence’, which over the course of the year has taken a number of different forms. The initial focus, when the project began in March, was on developing my own work, Bodies of Water, the emphasis shifted for a time onto playing ‘agent provocateur’ and mentor to student projects, and as the project gained momentum, I found myself operating as an ‘interdisciplinary translator’, facilitating communication between the science and design disciplines. As the year draws nearer to the end, Bodies of Water has differentiated in response to these environmental pressures and bred with several of the student projects to make up a family of related speculations. In order to capture something of this process I will begin by discussing my original framework before drawing in some student work and then moving on to outline some possible futures.



Oceans, lakes, rivers, aquifers, cities, nations states and living organisms. Bodies of water are both systems in themselves and points of accumulation in the course of larger cycles. How these systems and cycles inter-relate has been and will continue to be of critical importance to the existence of all living collectives. Cities have been established and shaped according to the proximity, availability, and transport of water. Wars have been and continue to be fought over it. Living organisms cannot, for the most part, survive without it. As the global balance tips closer to the extreme environmentally, the politics of water intensify. In Australia, water is scarse and becoming scarser, with emergency water restrictions in place in Melbourne last summer that had the whole city return to its native state of dry brown. Meanwhile, in Queensland, towns people voted against a sewage recycling scheme despite suffering water shortages so extreme that their town faced imminent closure. 

Bodies of Water was conceived of as a series of speculative projects to explore both the material relationship of our animal body of water to larger environmental and political bodies and to probe the ambivalent, yet metaphorically potent, relationship which we hold to the messy nature of our wet physicality. The first stage of this work is Autologous: Pure survival, which investigates various means of collecting and recycling water excreted from the body in the form of urine, breath and sweat. The second part of the work, Autologous: Alchemy for a global economy, which is still in the research phase, involves implementing a process for extracting and ‘enterprising-up’ metabolic by-products and pharmaceuticals extracted from one’s own urine.

When I began to think about undertaking the RMIT residency, one of my aims was to engage the Fashion Design students in reconsidering the material functionality of clothing. Accordingly, prototypes for Autologous: Pure survival were designed to encourage an approach to clothing as something that interfaces with the metabolic, temporal processes of the body, rather than something that merely fits with and follows the contours of its external surface. These are similar concerns to those currently being addressed in the area of wearable technologies, but rather than ‘jacking into the network’, in this case, we are tapping into the flow. In contrast to the Gibsonesque aesthetics of many wearables, the speculative prototypes designed so far deal with material transformations in a very low-tech manner. Indeed, it could be said that they draw on an entirely different sci-fi heritage. While the world in William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer is one of hacked-up cybertnetic bodies, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune  takes place on a completely desertified planet whose indigenous inhabitants survive by wearing suits designed to capture and recycle all bodily moisture.

Some early models:


Breath Catchers: Designed to condense exhaled moisture and then catch the drips. For use in mild to moderate conditions. Drips can be consumed directly from the collector buckets or added to your water bottle for future use. Now availble for nostril sizes Extra Small to Extra Large.


P-Hydrate – Why Wait!: Self-directed rehydration technology designed for those times when you just can’t wait. Comes with easily detatchable activated carbon filter for a choice between flavour control or pharmaceutical feedback. This product allows for concerned individuals to minimise their environmental impact and save on medication at the same time! /1/  

Although the viewer may initially be drawn in by the humourous nature of these models, the intentionally ridiculous nature of their presentation leads on to a more nuanced contemplation of the relationship between cycles of production and consumption, our bodies and our world. The obviously untenable nature of the proposed systems, reinforces the fact that, when it comes to survival, we are very much dependant on the functioning of our environment. By referencing the flow through of pharmaceutical waste, P-Hydrate constructs the body as a key material-economic nexus in the water cycle, and draws attention to the necessary relationship between what we chose to consume and the politics of what we excrete.


In the first semester of the Australian teaching year, the Biospatial Project Director, Pia Ednie-Brown, ran a theory seminar called Contaminated Life. One of the key themes of the seminar was waste and how it can be productively transformed. In response to this, my work began to broaden out from the early models into an investigation of the relationship between this waste and other living systems. For example, experiments with the nutritive potential of urine were extended to incorporate vegetable matter into the loop….



Feedback /2/ 

… and new forms of bodily waste were drawn into the work.


Bag It

With greenhouse gas emmissions currently one of the most talked about forms of human waste, I began to consider the fact that we actually produce CO2 as a by-product of our metabolism all the time. Given this, I started to collect my breath in garbage bags and went on to design some wearable prototypes for individuals suffering from extreme ‘carbon guilt’.


Then to incorporate plant systems once again, I have begun to experiment with embedding seeds into plastic film (evaporated agar-agar). The eventual aim of this research is to create bags that will use both the exhaled CO2 and moisture from the breath to grow plants in a wearable carbon offset scheme.

Meanwhile one of the student projects that I like the most is this new line of ribbed condoms by Jen Woods, which has been designed to take advantage of the moisture content and nutritive qualities of waste semen.


With Jen’s permission, I have just recently initiated some experiments to test the potential of this beautifully poetic speculation.


Spread Your Seed

Like the first two models, all of these works are threaded through with laughter. To laugh, to release, to draw open the gaps, and to seriously consider the nature of how things come together again. But just as there is laughter, there is also recoil. To spring back repelled from the promiscuous passage between body and world, from the brutality of transformation, from the inevitable processes of degeneration and reconstitution. Our relationship to our own waste is never neutral. In Eroticism, Georges Bataille draws bodily waste into correspondance with the taboo domains of sexuality and reproduction through their mutual connection to death – the violent transition from discontinous to continuous being. (Bataille: p16-17)

“Mankind (sic) conspires to ignore the fact that death is also the youth of things. … Life is a swelling tumult continuously on the verge of explosion. But since the incessant explosion constantly exhausts its resources, it can only proceed under one condition: that beings given life whose explosive force is exhausted shall make room for fresh beings coming into the cycle with renewed vigour.” (ibid: p59)

Both sexuality and excreta represent aspects of this continuity between life and world that are manifest, before death, in the course of living. For Bataille, physical eroticism derives its power from “violation bordering on death” (p17) and excreta foreshadows the decay of the body after death (p58). Sex and excretion are acts that tamper with the boundary conditions of the modernist individual, they offer momentary release from the pressure to be discrete.


Perhaps it could be said that what I am aiming for in this work is indiscretion. Just as Bataille proposes a dissolute life to be one which erotically pursues the “partial dissolution of the person as he exists in the realm of discontinuity” (Bataille: p17), I propose that an indiscrete life is one which pursues excreta through continuous transformation. In this pursuit many secrets are revealed: It is not only the cycles of life and matter, but also the economic and metaphoric relations of production, consumption and pollution, that can be traced by trawling through the excrement.

“Bourgeois political economy transforms origins into a tabula rasa by inventing a discourse of temporality in which it becomes possible to claim: ‘ I was never born.’ By elevating bodies and objects (in the form of products) to the status of signs, it places them in a translucent state; the very light that penetrates them blurs their contours, renders them opaque and tasteless, luminous and free of smell.” (Laporte: p79-80)

By trawling through the excrement, by following your nose, the reek of money can be traced through bodies and out into the global economy, the poetics of birth and the politics of a life in relation unfold. Of course there is a great deal of anxiety involved in embracing ones indiscretions. This anxiety is explored, and satirised, in the waste containment strategies of the Breath Catchers, P-Hydrate and Bag It, whereas with Feedback, Spread Your Seed  and  the next stage of the research Autologous: Alchemy for a Global Economy, we break though the inhibitions into a more active engagement with continuity.

The reason that Jen Woods’ condom sprouter speculation is so powerful, is that it so clearly draws together the domains of  reproduction and bodily waste. In doing so, it taps deep into the rich substance of metaphor, ritual and taboo surrounding the transitory states of life, death and generation. One potent myth arising from the alchemical traditions of the European middle ages concerns the special powers of a mandrake plant which grows from the ejaculate of a hanged man. The original meaning of the word pollution is “c.1340, ‘discharge of semen other than during sex’” (Harper). More recently, assisted reproductive technologies, mechanisms of genetic surveillance and the spread of sexually transmitted disease, place semen clearly within structures designed to continuously manage life. To indiscretely pursue the transformations required of Spread Your Seed brings many of these connections to the fore.  Thus, perhaps unsurpisingly, one of the most interesting aspects of the Spread Your Seed  experiments so far, has been the search for a donor. While most people regard used condoms as abject waste to be hastily disposed of, it seems that they remain invested with too much generative potential to be handed over to  single woman for an art project…

As its title would suggest, the next phase of the Bodies of Water  work, Autologous:Alchemy for a Global Economy, also draws upon the alchemical tradition: Due to its colour, urine was considered by the alchemists to be an important element in the quest for gold. In the coming year, I undertake to pursue this objective – the transformation of urine into gold –  and that of an indiscrete life in quite literal terms. While in P-Hydrate, harmaceutical by-products in urine, in Autologous:Alchemy for a Global Economy I intend to make use of these by-products, along with the endogenous constituents of urine, in a self-pharming scheme. Using electrodialysis and membrane filtration technology, excreted pharmaceuticals will be extracted and offered up for re-sale – either back to the pharmaceutical companies themselves, or at secondhand prices to concerned consumers. The urea content of the urine will be used in the manufacture of handmade cosmetics. In the long run, I hope to develop an affordable system that can be used by others in DIY self-pharming initiatives. This is sustainable agriculture for the new world order, designed to indiscretely reveal the material flow of economy through bodies and environment. By pursuing the transformation of excreta it operates to situate the consumer in a continuously ethical relationship with their material, economic and living surrounds.

Bodies of Water  continues through the generous assistance of Arts Victoria.

boo_image9a boo_image10a


Bataille, Georges (1962). Eroticism. London: Penguin

Escher, B. I. And Lienert J. (2007). Can NoMix Help to Prevent Environmental Problems Caused by Medicines? Ewag News, Vol 63e/March, pp23-25. Dübendorf, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology

Escher, B. I. and Pronk W. et al (2006). Monitoring the Removal Efficiency of Pharmaceuticals and Hormones in Different Treatment Processes of Source-Separated Urine with Bioassays, Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society

Harper, Douglas (2001) Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved August 10, 2007, from

Gibson, Willliam (1984). Neuromancer. New York: Berkley Publishing Group

Herbert, Frank (1965). Dune.  New York: Berkley Publishing Group

Laporte, Dominique (2000). History of Shit. Trans. Nadia Benabid and Rodolphe el-Khoury. Cambridge, Massachussets: MIT and Documents Magazine Inc.

 /1/ “Although the variation among individual medicines is extremely wide, an average of 64% (standard deviation ±27%) of a substance ingested is excreted in the urine.” (Escher, 2007: p24) Excreted pharmaceuticals are known to be detrimental to aquatic ecosystems.

 /2/ Since undertaking these experiments I have become aware of a similar project,  N=1=NPK=KIMCHI=N,  by artist Jae Rhim Lee, in which she grew kim chi cabbage in a hydroponic system fed with her own urine and then served the cabbage up in the gallery.

Beatriz da Costa

3 10 2008

Beatriz da Costa, German (lives and works in the United States), 1974, is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher who works at the intersection of contemporary art, life science, engineering and politics. 

Associate Professor of Studio Art, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, USA, WWW


3 10 2008



A project by Beatriz da Costa with Cina Hazegh and Kevin Ponto

“To Make People believe, is to make them act.” Michel de Certeau. /1/ 

PigeonBlog /2/ was a collaborative endeavor between homing pigeons, artists, engineers and pigeon fanciers engaged in a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative designed to collect and distribute information about air quality conditions to the general public. Pigeons carried custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices enabled to send the collected localized information to an online server without delay. Pollution levels were visualized and plotted in real-time over Google’s mapping environment, thus allowing immediate access to the collected information to anyone with connection to the Internet.

PigeonBlog was an attempt to combine DIY electronics development with a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative, while simultaneously investigating the potentials of interspecies co-production in the pursuit of resistant action. /3/ How could animals help us in raising awareness to social injustice? Could their ability in performing tasks and activities that humans simply can’t be exploited in this manner, while maintaining a respectful relationship with the animals? 

PigeonBlog was developed and implemented in the southern California region, which ranks among the top-ten most polluted regions in the country. PigeonBlog’s aim was 1) to re-invoke urgency around a topic that has serious health consequences, but lacks public action and commitment to change; 2) to broaden the notion of a citizen science while building bridges between scientific research agendas and activist oriented citizen concerns; and 3) to develop mutually positive work and play practices between situated human beings and other animals in technoscientific worlds. 

When thinking of pigeons, people tend to think of the many species found in urban environments. Often referred to as “flying rats,” these birds and their impressive ability to adapt to urban landscapes isn’t always seen in a favorable light by their human co-habitants. At least by association then, PigeonBlog attempted to start a discussion about possible new forms of co-habitation in our changing urban ecologies and made visible an already existing world of human-pigeon interaction. At a time where species boundaries are being actively reconstructed on the molecular level, a re-investigation of human to non-human animal relationships is necessary. 

PigeonBlog was inspired by a famous photograph of a pigeon carrying a camera around its neck taken at the turn of the twentieth century. This technology, developed by the German engineer Julius Neubronner for military applications, allowed photographs to be taken by pigeons while in flight. A small camera was set on a mechanical timer to take pictures periodically as pigeons flew over regions of interest, Currently on display in the Deutsche Museum in Munich, these cameras were functional, but never served their intended purpose of assisted spy technology during wartime. Nevertheless, this early example of using living animals as participants in early surveillance technology systems provoked the following questions: What would the twenty-first century version of this combination look like? What types of civilian and activist applications could it be used for?

Facilities emitting hazardous air pollutants are frequently sited in, or routed through, low-income and “minority” dominated neighborhoods, thereby putting the burden of related health and work problems on already disadvantaged sectors of the population who have the least means and legal recourse (particularly in the case of non-citizens) to defend themselves against this practice. Recent studies also revealed that air pollution levels in the Los Angeles and Riverside counties region are of high enough magnitude to directly affect children’s health and development. /4/ 

With homing pigeons serving as the “reporters” of current air pollution levels, PigeonBlog attempted to create a spectacle provocative enough to spark people’s imagination and interests in the types of action that could be taken in order to reverse this situation. Activists’ pursuits can often have a normalizing effect rather than one that inspires social change. Circulating information on “how bad things are” can easily be lost in our daily information overload. It seems that artists are in the perfect position to invent new ways in which information is conveyed and participation inspired. The pigeons became my communicative objects in this project and “collaborators” in the co-production of knowledge. 

PigeonBlog also helped to provide entry into the health and environmental sciences. The largest government-led air pollution control agency in Southern California is the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), covering Orange County, and the urban areas of Riverside and Los Angeles Counties. Despite AQMD’s efforts, in addition to major air quality improvements achieved over the past thirty years, pollution levels in the region still surpass national regulatory health standards. In 2005 ozone levels exceeded the federal health standard for ozone eighty-four nearly one quarter of the calendar year.

Besides the actual numbers, it was the way in which air pollution measurements are currently conducted that the project hoped to address. The South Coast AQMD controls 34 monitoring stations in its responsible district. These are fixed stations at an approximate cost of tens of thousands of dollars per station. Each station collects a set of gases restricted to its immediate surroundings. Values in between these stations are calculated based on scientific interpellation models. Stations are generally positioned in quiet low-traffic areas, not near known pollution hotspots, such as power plants, refineries and highways. The rationale behind this strategy is to obtain representative values of the urban air shed as opposed to data “tainted” by local sources in the immediate surroundings.

PigeonBlog’s birds had the potential of validating these interpellation models. Not only were they collecting the actual information while “moving” around, but they were also flying at about 300ft altitude, an area that has proven difficult to assess through other means. Most flying targets are a source of pollution themselves. Airplanes in particular have this problem, as it is obviously quite dangerous to fly at such a low altitude. 

Recent behavioral studies of pigeons revealed that in addition to the commonly accepted theory that pigeons orient themselves in relation to the Earth’s magnetic field, they also use visual markers such as highways and bigger streets for orientation. /5/ Flying about 300 feet above the ground pigeons are ideal candidates to help sense traffic related air pollution, and to validate pollution dispersion in those regions. Depending on the location of the initial release, the pigeons could also report on ground-level information at locations were AQMD sanctioned monitors were not available. 

The pigeon “backpack” developed for this project consisted of a combined GPS (latitude, longitude, altitude) / GSM (cell phone tower communication) unit and corresponding antennas, a dual automotive CO/NOx pollution sensor, a temperature sensor, a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card interface, a microcontroller and standard supporting electronic components. Designed in this manner, we essentially ended up developing an open-platform Short Message Service (SMS) enabled cell phone, ready to be rebuilt and repurposed by anyone who is interested in doing so. While the development of the basic functionality of this device took us about three months, miniaturizing it to a comfortable pigeon size took us three times as long. After some initial discomfort, many revisions, “fitting sessions” and balance training in the loft, the birds seemed to take to the devices quite well and were able to fly short distances (up to twenty miles). The pigeons who worked with us on the project belonged to Bob Matsuyama, a pigeon fancier and middle school shop and science teacher, who became a main collaborator in the project. He volunteered his birds for PigeonBlog and helped the pigeons train and interact with us. 

After many trials and test flights in southern California with Bob and his birds, we now felt ready to introduce the project to a larger audience. The pigeons flew at three occasions. Once as part of the Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory, an event sponsored by UC Irvine’s Humanities Research Institute. And twice as part of the Inter Society for Electronic Arts (ISEA) Festival in San Jose. All three of these events took place in August 2006 and the observing human audience members got a chance to interact with the birds and retrieve the collected pollution information. The birds who worked with us in San Jose belonged to a local San Jose pigeon fancier. 

The reactions to PigeonBlog were diverse. While being embraced and applauded by many, there were also critical comments made by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who accused PigeonBlog of animal abuse and conducting non-scientifically grounded experiments. PETA’s campaign didn’t result in action beyond the public statement issued by the group, but it tainted the experience for a brief moment. Animal abuse was not “practiced” as part of the project, nor was animal rights a topic that the project was hoping to create public dialogue around. PigeonBlog was not animal rights in action, but political cross-species art in action and the collaboration with the birds was organic to the project. However, on a more positive note, PETA’s critique also raised important questions regarding the legitimacy of arts/science experiments. PETA’s accusations were built on the assessment that PigeonBlog was not scientifically grounded, and should therefore cease its activities. Is human-animal work as part of political action less legitimate than the same type of activity when framed under the umbrella of science?  

In addition to technophile “fans” of the project who simply admired the “coolness factor” of putting electronics on birds, PigeonBlog also received inquiries from environmental health scientists with questions about the technology used and wondering if the device could be used for their own research, which for the most part was geared towards tracing personalized pollution exposure to humans. /6/ Another group of people who inquired about the project were ornithologists (professional and hobbyists) looking for cheap and feasible ways to track birds of all kinds. Then there were the many emails from pigeon fanciers around the country wanting to become involved in the PigeonBlog project itself, as well as green/environmental activists simply being supportive of the project’s goals. 

All of these inquiries had a logic to them. Whereas the technophile approach to anything electronic was certainly the least interesting or relevant to the project’s ambition, that community is at least partially linked to the type of work technoscience artists engage in. The specific questions regarding the technology and its potential usefulness for other research endeavors made sense, after all the project did produce a very small, light-weight and inexpensive device that couldn’t be purchased commercially. 

However, we also received an invitation to participate in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant geared towards the development of small autonomous aerial vehicles designed around the aerodynamics of birds, /7/ as well as inquiries regarding the feasibility of “measuring pulmonary artery pressure in birds during flight.” How could PigeonBlog possibly be of help to these people? Isn’t it obvious from this work that a DARPA grant is the last thing that its authors would want to be involved in and that she is neither a biologist nor a veterinarian? Why was I suddenly being associated with areas of expertise that I was in no way qualified to respond to? 

PigeonBlog received a lot of media coverage. Both national and international major newspapers had covered the project as well as national television news channels. In nearly every instance, I was being referred to as “Beatriz da Costa, researcher at the University of California, Irvine.” “Researcher” seemed to imply “scientist” in many people’s minds, rather than “creative,” “social” or “artistic” researcher. Suddenly I was put under a similar scrutiny and questioning that scientists have to go through after publishing their work, and the association of the “political technoscientific artist” as a “specific” intellectual, seemed to have gone one step too far. 

This realization and thoughts about the future of PigeonBlog made me pause for a while. Did the project lose its political potential by becoming too closely associated with the university and myself being an actor within it? How should PigeonBlog continue? Should PigeonBlog data be linked to existing air pollution models in order to justify the projects scientific validity to criticism raised by groups such as PETA? And what would this approach entail? Would large amounts of money now have to be raised to conduct a “scientifically sanctioned” study? Would pigeons have to be flown for several years, eventually accumulating enough data to publish results in a scientific journal, rather than at an arts festival? Wouldn’t this end up creating the same trap of eventually developing expertise over time while becoming less accessible to a non-expert public?

At this point, PigeonBlog’s future remains uncertain. Perhaps the most inspiring and gratifying inquiry came from the Cornell Lab for Ornithology who asked me to serve on the board of their current “Urban Bird Gardens” project, which is part of their citizen science initiative. /8/ The citizen science initiative involves bird observation and data gathering conducted by non-expert citizens, ranging from the elderly to schoolchildren. Unlike other “outreach” programs conducted by universities around the country, Cornell’s citizen science initiative actually uses the collected data as part of their research studies. Several projects conducted under the citizen science agenda, such as “PigeonWatch,” “Urban Bird Studies” and now the “Urban Bird Gardens” project overlap in their aim and audience with the ambitions the PigeonBlog project set out to address. 

Rather than dedicating myself to a scientific justification of PigeonBlog built within the university research environment and its related publication venues, I am hoping that this approach will be more true to PigeonBlog’s original aim in situating itself between the academy and non-expert participants. 


/1/ Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 148.

/2/ PigeonBlog 

/3/ Another example is the Zapped! project by Preemptive Media.

/4/ Nino Künzli et al., “Breathless in Los Angeles: The Exhausting Search for Clean Air,” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 9  (Spring 2003): 1494-1499.

/5/ Hans-Peter Lipp, “Pigeon Homing along Highways and Exits,” Current Biology 14, no. 14 (27 July 2004), 1239-1249. 

/6/ Preemptive Media’s “AIR” project addressed the pollution exposure to humans in more detail. For more information, see:

/7/ This inquiry came from a major research university in Arizona.   

/8/ Cornell’s citizen science initiative