Polluted Art: Gilberto Esparza’s Fuel Cell Symphony

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Rarely is the word science associated with art, but in the case of Gilberto Esparza the two can easily be used interchangeably. At this year’s TED Active conference in Palm Springs, CA, Gilberto debuted his project Auto-Photosynthetic Plants and created a symphony using an orchestra that has never been given a voice. In short, he found a way to allow microscopic bacteria to sing.

To the passerby, Esparza’s Auto-Photosynthetic Plants was a maze of static tubes and microscopes. Within the clear tubes, a world of energy was being created. Here’s how it works: Esparza used the tubes to connect the energy created from several microbial fuel cells populated with polluted waters from Mexico. The tubes directed the energy flowing between the cells onto a micro-energy harvester. He allowed the energy to collect in the harvester, and when it had reached a certain point, the energy was fired into an oscillator. This device then created a sonic interpretation of the energy and a sound was emitted, giving the tiny microbes a voice.

Esparza was also able to place microbial fuel cells under a microscope, and then project the microscope’s image onto a screen. His installation read the image and translated that microscopic image into sound variations. According to Esparza, his work was an “installation that talks,” and that conversation was about pollution.

As a young boy, Esparza was fascinated by science fiction. He strives for his work to tell a fascinating story like the stories that inspired him as a child, yet creates that story from truth rather than fantasy. In his latest work, Esparza is leveraging the power of pollution to fuel animal-like robots that carry plants to their food source, clean the food source, and perpetuate the energy that supplies the robotic movement. His projects are a blend of passionate artistry and the fine-tuned research of a dedicated scientist – perhaps the two go hand in hand.

Esparza was chosen by Lincoln Motor Company to create a work for the Lincoln Reimagine Project™. He will develop a new piece derived from his Platas Nomadas [link?] project, which will highlight research about rivers that have become urban drainage networks. He plans to create energy extraction from the pollution in the rivers to promote life in urban spaces where it does not grow naturally any more.

Esparza will collect water samples in different points of a city in order to construct modules made with microbial fuel cells. Each module will generate energy in the form of light to grow living plants in urban spaces without solar light. At the same time, all this energetic activity will be translated into sounds, because even cells have to express themselves.

Esparza continues to write the story of the effects of technology on social relations and economic phenomena as well as their impact on the environment and the urban structure. It’s a fascinating tale of science, and not fictitious in the slightest.

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