Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits: “Biotricity. Bacteria Time” at Futurium Museum, Berlin

“Biotricity - Bacteria Time” (2019), Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits. Installation at the permanent exposition – “Rethinking Nature”, Futurium museum, Berlin. Photo: Raitis Smits.

Futurium, a new museum in the heart of Berlin, opened on September 5, 2019. The museum is a self described “House of Futures,” with a mission to help shape the future by manifesting the ideas, visions, and future scenarios as developed by scientists, artists, architects, and designers. A new artwork from Rasa Smite and Raitis SmitsBiotricity series, titled Bacteria Time, is to become part of the museum’s permanent exposition, Rethinking Nature.

At Futurium, everything revolves around the question: how do we want to live? In the Forum, visitors can take part in open discussions; in the Futurium Lab, they can try out their own ideas; and in the Future Exhibition, visitors can discover many possible futures. How will someone live and work in ten or twenty years? How will people in the future be able to feed themselves, and what forms of energy will they use? Here, visitors can discover possible answers in different worlds that each put different emphasis on technologies, nature, or society. 

Rasa and Raitis have spent many years experimenting with green energy, literally “rethinking” nature from the perspective of renewable energy technologies. They have been exploring its potential and limits, envisioning viable future scenarios with regards to both energy and aesthetics, whereby sonifying and visualizing the data collected during various environmental experiments in outdoors, creating a poetics of green energy. 

The Biotricity artworks are based on the principle that the bacteria which live on the seabed, in the mud, or at the bottom of lakes, ponds, and swamps, which contain a lot of organic matter, but no oxygen, can generate a small amount of electric current. This technology is called MFC (microbial fuel cell), and the artists have collaborated with scientists from the Hydrogen Lab of Solid State Physics Institute in Riga and Faculty of Biology of the Latvian University. They have been performing various unique experiments artistically and scientifically, with materials and environments, indoors and outdoors, installing “bacteria batteries” in the ponds and swamps, and providing continuous measurements of electricity fluctuations, environmental data, and images from those particular locations. As the result of these experiments, artists Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits have created a series of Biotricity artworks, revealing poetics of green energy.

The new installation Biotricity – Bacteria Time consists of several “mud batteries,” with each battery producing about half a volt of electricity. The “mud batteries” are connected in a circuit to power a digital clock. As electricity is generated by living microorganisms, and as the artists have revealed that energy fluctuates, electricity flows to the clock unevenly – sometimes producing more electricity, sometimes generating insufficient amount. Consequently, the clock shows the time according to bacteria activity. The installation is complemented by a video of “bacteria battery” outdoor  experiments in the pond of Riga Botanical garden (2014-2015). In this time-lapse video time is “compressed” – the 10-minute video features seven-months of environmental footage and electrical flow data from summer to spring. 

The artists Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits are internationally acknowledged artists and cultural innovators, who work in the intersection of art, science and new technologies; they are founders of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga, Latvia and pioneering artists of internet radio and networked new media art. Currently Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits are lecturers at MIT ACT. 

Artworks from the Biotricity series have recently been exhibited at the “Swamp Pavillion” at the Venice Architecture Biennale (2018) and The Center of Theoretical Physics at MIT (2018), as well as in the exhibition of the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz (2018), at HeK Electronic Arts Center in Basel, and elsewhere. The real-time audio installation “Biotricity – Pond Battery” (2014-2015) is currently on view, until October 26, 2019 at the Laboral Center for the Arts and Creative Industries in Gijon, Spain, at the exhibition “Eco-visionaries,” which features twelve artworks that are engaged in revealing new relationships between the biosphere and the technosphere.