Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta
Landscape Within confronts the potential health time-bomb that future generations face: waste products and industrial contaminants produced since the industrial revolution can impact our bodies and minds in unexpected ways. Inspired by philosopher Brian Thill, the work addresses the ultimate challenge, to ‘consider where these waste products go next; or what it means for us if there really is nowhere else to go’.
We are often reminded of the effects heavy metals have on our health and are shown evidence of our bodies in flux with the landscapes in which we live and produce food. Recent media releases from the Food Standards Agency warn of the effects of arsenic in rice, which can increase chances of illnesses such as cancer; any expectant mother will be familiar with removing certain fish from her diet to avoid mercury intake that can affect the development of her baby.
Set in this future landscape, heavily littered with contaminants, and with nowhere else to go, Landscape Within asks what adaptations would we be willing to make when it is clear that our bodies are in constant flux with the environment?
Artists Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta (Burton Nitta) with support from the Wellcome Trust collaborate with a transdisciplinary group of researchers from the worlds of art, design, synthetic biology and environmental epidemiology. They create speculative enhancements to our body and food consumption processes to adapt us for the future landscape.
In the first stage of the project, Burton Nitta worked with Dr Louise Horsfall, the leader of the Horsfall Lab at the University of Edinburgh, to consider how humans can filter out heavy-metals before exposure through the food we eat. Her research in synthetic biology is explored, offering the potential not only to enhance our digestive systems but also to mine the body itself and convert the contamination into valuable and useful materials. The first outcome of Burton Nitta’s collaboration builds an external digestive system to interact with our bodies. As with our digestive systems, bacteria play a crucial role in the process, but, unlike the natural bacteria found in our bodies, the external digestive system of Landscape Within employs engineered bacteria currently being researched by the Horsfall Lab to precipitate out nano-metals from plants.
Through further collaboration with Dr Susan Hodgson, researcher and lecturer in Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure at Imperial College London, the project considers a selection of heavy metals including arsenic, lead and cadmium. These are found in the environment as a consequence of human activity, such as mining and waste contamination, and their implications on our health after they enter the body through our food, water and surroundings will be explored. In a later stage of the project Burton Nitta will work with Dr Hodgson to consider the health impacts of heavy-metals, how socio-economic and geographical locations may influence who will be affected and how globalized systems of production are the responsibility of us all.
As a result Landscape Within confronts us with the potential need to adapt the body to a world of our making and reminds us not only that ‘we are what we eat’ but also ‘we are where we live’ - the landscape is within us.
Landscape Within is a project by Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta in collaboration with University of Edinburgh Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology, Dr Louise Horsfall, Dr Matthew Edmundson, Dr Michael Capeness, Dr Virginia Echavarri-Bravo, and Dr Susan Hodgson, Lecturer in Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure, School of Public Health, Imperial College London
Supported by the Wellcome Trust
Thill, B (2015). Waste. New York & London: Bloomsbury Academic. Food Standard Agency (2016), Arsenic in Rice. Available at: https://www.food.gov.uk/science/arsenic-in-rice National Health Service (2015), Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pregnant.aspx
Image credit: Landscape Within, Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta