Remediation and practice of attunements


03-04-2023 

︎ research report for the Photographic garden, Sustainable Darkroom 

︎ my graduation/thesis summary at Ecology Futures, MIVC

Research proposal

My research proposal titled The remediation and the practice of attunements focused on learning root cleaning methods that are suitable for the remediation of the dirty darkroom waters. In the photographic darkroom we are using an enormous amount of water mainly in the last stage of the photographic processing, during the cleaning of the final prints/film strips. For the Sustainable Darkroom, I envisioned contributing by building a remediation site that would exist in harmony with the darkroom and garden which was located in Leeds.

This meant learning from the microbial consortia that live on the roots of the plants and figuring out the practice of attunement. Simply explained as using the remediation site not only for the needs of the darkroom but utilising the darkroom for the needs of the plants too. According to me, the remediation is the process of mutual aid based on the understanding that becoming and existing agents come together to form the symbiotic relationship. The photographers thus must become not only photography practitioners but also gardeners, carers and alchemists.

During the time of writing my proposal I was not entirely clear on which remediation method would be suitable the most but I expressed my interest in researching cascade hydroponics.

I have been aware of phytoremediation properties of plants as I was remediating my kombucha SCOBY photographic experiments with the oat plants.

Method

I was aware of one type of a root cleaning system, however I could not find out what is the English translation. At the end I discovered it is called constructed wetlands and figured out that we are able to treat the waste water through the environment which immitates the naturally occuring wet landscapes. As this system is in use by some municipalities or households, I knew that it is possible to treat the water containing similar pollutants as are coming out from our house sewage pipes. The Sustainable Darkroom is aiming to reduce the use of photographic chemicals by substituting them for homemade ones and thus containing ingredients we find in our kitchens or bathrooms.

On the other hand, studies for industrial use of the constructed wetlands are limited. Some scientific research was made on their use in conjuction with textile or paper making industry.

I decided, I can not start building any prototypes before learning about the wetland processes. As a way of attuning, I have been interested in finding a wetland environment within my body and the darkroom. This is something that Stacy Alaimo (2010) calls trans-corporeality. By realising that remediation is just a term made up by humans in order to dominate and use the plants for a purpose of clean-up, I became interested in learning about digestion instead. Because plants do not remediate for us, instead they digest for themselves. I figured out that all living and growing beings are digesting in certain way, sometimes they eat the other, sometimes complement each other and munching on the waste of the other. The waste and remediation is thus only an invented terminolgy meaning nutrients and digestion at the same time. I felt, I must respond to this learning artistically not only scientifically. I have been listening to my belly sounds as a way of connecting to microbial communities living in my wet guts, I used my urine as a photographic developer, I have been applying my bodily swabs on the photographic film to merge the two and accidentally discovering the fungi that is able to digest the silver from the strip of the photographic paper. In scientific terms called bioremediation or mycoremediation.

Last but not least, I have been playing around with the chemigram process and ingredients inspired by a collection of found shopping lists exploring the digestive universe of the photographic medium.

Only after settling down how my body and the darkroom relates to the wetlands I was able to start practical experiments with the prototypes of the constructed wetlands. These I will shortly describe below. I have contacted professor doc. Ing. Michal Kriška PhD. from Brno Technical University and Matthew Brown from the Yorkshire Water. They advised me on how to start or sent to me useful links about the relevant projects.
Glomeruli sketch filtering blood and releasing it out as urine


Constructed wetland aka Helophyte filter

As I was advised, before starting any experiments it is important to establish the type of wastewater I am going to treat. It is known that the constructed wetlands can take most of the organic pollutants. For example, these could be phenolic compounds that are developing agents in homemade plant developers. The wastewater matrix that I am studying is deconstructed into its chemical reactions, so I can better understand how it could be beneficial for plants growing in the constructed wetland study. Initially, I chose to focus on the cyanotype wash waters because Edd Carr, who is working with the cyanotype process, was using the darkroom in Leeds the most.

The presence of the iron salts in the constructed wetlands could be optimal for plants, because they need iron to move the oxygen through their cells. On the other hand if considering waters that come from developing of the film or other light- sensitive material, the high silver content could be killing the microbial communities that operate on the roots of the plant.

Generally, constructed wetlands are tested on removal of nitrogen and phosphorus rather then silver metals. What I am interested is thus not really remediation of fixer, or water containing silver metal, but rather the water after the precious metals are removed, the water that is used in the washing of the prints, the water from the homemade developers after they went through the process of neutralising (because they are way too alkaline/if not left evaporated).

In this sense, my interest is not as much in ‘cleaning’ the water but ‘circulating it’, creating a symbiotic ecosystem between darkroom and garden.



Here are the prototypes I have attempted to build:

a) plastic bottles with different substrates

During two weeks in February 2022, I have filled the plastic bottles with 4 different substrates and the water mint plant that are supposed to be efficient in filtering the influent waters. One bottle was filled with sand and basalt stones only; the second one with sand, basalt stones and mycelium; the third one with sand, basalt stones and crushed carbon filter; and the last one with sand, basalt stones and human hair. With adding different substrates I aimed to add nutrient high on nitrogen to my plants and observe if they would grow better/quicker/or what would be the effect on the filtration system.

I intended to water the plants as house plants and let them to grow their roots first. Only after a month I would start with adding the dirty darkroom waters. Unfortunately, after my visit in Leeds I discovered my plants were not watered properly and died.



b) toilet in Hot Compost vitrine Gallery, Leeds

I have attempted to build a constructed wetland from the discarded toilet. Toilet was filled with a layer of about 3mm stones, grit/filtering sand (the biggest layer), and again a layer of 3mm stones. The water mint plants, the common reed and the water forget-me-not were planted inside (water forget-me-nots were delivered accidentely but I have decided to plant them in anyway). The plants were delivered by Lincolnshire Pond Plants and by Maltby Springs Pond Centre.

The toilet was chosen symbolically as I think bathrooms are the most common improvised darkrooms, the tension between clean and dirty is obvious and they are the places of multispecies connection. The toilet as a multispecies meeting point where we connect through the pipes, sewers, and guts.

Plants play an important role in wetlands. However, most activity happens through a complex cycle of exchange, taking place mainly in the soil with the help of microorganisms. Microbial consortia are often found on the roots of plants or the surface of gravel and sand. And the colonies of microbes are also common to our guts and skins.



c) peristaltic pump-operated constructed wetlands

Toilet in Leeds was doing quite well the first month but was very dependent on people watering it regularly. Again I intended to let plants get used to the environment and grow their roots and come back to Leeds and test the constructed wetland with the darkroom waters. However, plants got eventually moved from the vitrine and died. The third experiment thus had to count on the mechanism that would be bringing the waters inside automatically. In practice, the influent waters are brought to the constructed wetlands in intervals, by pulsing mechanism which allows the water to come in constantly but in smaller amounts.

During this experiment I was feeding the plants for 10 days with the water from washing the chemigrams, urine developer, cyanotype wash water, cyanotype wash water filtered via DIY column chromatography and the wash water from washing the silver gelatin prints. I used the peristaltic pump which works on the same idea as our guts move the food – peristalsis. The peristalic pump was set up with Arduiono uno.

Although the plants seemed to get along well, I again had to pack my installation and did not have a space to continue with the filtration method. The sink however stayed and it serves as a nursery for the water mint plants which still show up between the stones.

Next to this experiment I also set up DIY column chromatography bottles for the adsorption method of prefiltering the waters through the sand medium.






Conclusions and findings

The last year was an incredible journey of learning, growing, failing, moving on, learning, trying again, questioning my own practice and possibilities that I, as an artist, am able to achieve. I understand that for making constructed wetland and the darkroom to work successfully together, I must start working in collaborations and transdisciplinary.

Although I got some initial advice from the scientists I think it is still hard to find professional laboratories that are willing to work in collaborations with artists – also due to the fact that laboratory testing and scientific advice is expensive and time demanding.

I would like to continue experimenting with the constructed wetlands and will attempt to build more prototypes.

The darkroom as a wetland, a body, or a belly - an organism, is a concept I would like to develop in the long term. To me, it means to get out of the frame thinking and expand the role of the photographer into an alchemist and a carer. Finding some kind of symbiotic relationships between plants, waters, humans, darkroom processes is what I would like to invest my time into. Within my experiments, I try to re-think my ‘self’ as dynamic and wet, submerged together in the common waters, entering the state where I become a medium, as well as the photographic medium becomes lively.

My way of figuring out the coordinations in the photographic darkroom is through materiality and synthesis of bodily matter with the medium. I do not seek to delete the border between human and nature as to say there is no difference and responsibility, rather to deconstruct it in order to understand the flow between humannature relationships differently. I believe that the sustainable darkroom practice is about establishing relationships mainly.

I would like to finish with saying from what I learnt from Pedro Neves Marques, a portuguese artist, author of the Mimetic traps: Forest, Images, Worlds (2017) recommended to me by Slovenian artist Katarina Jazbec:

“It is not possible to reduce the world into one world, therefore if there are multiple worlds we might learn how to live in-between the layers. So what is in-between the layers, I ask? To me in- between are the relationships, movements, mingle of things, roots of the plants, digestion, process.”