[-empyre-] First Post by Britta Riley

Britta Riley brittariley at gmail.com
Thu Apr 3 05:56:39 EST 2008

Hello, Empyre.

Our installation, DrinkPeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee, is currently on display at
Eyebeam Art and Technology center in Manhattan. The installation follows the
path of the fluid solution of drugs and nutrients excreted in our own urine
as it moves from our toilets, through piping and chemical processes, out
into aquatic ecosystems, and back to us via our drinking water. A large
circle of tubing in the installation runs from a toilet, through chemistry
contraptions and two functioning aquariums, back into a water fountain
facing the toilet. Viewers are invited to sit down at the toilet, which
immediately faces the water fountain, as if to drink while peeing. When they
do so, their guts close the loop of the larger water cycle. There is a
visceral experience of the relationship between our bodies and the larger
life cycles in which we take part.

Throughout our work on the piece, two concepts within the idea of
sustainability arose: that we could be "sentient ecosystems" and that some
of our current environmental issues might be a result of "inappropriate

It is our hope that humans aspire to be "sentient ecosystems." A sentient
ecosystem occurs when a human being actively works to find opportunities for
productive exchanges within a local environment that is already under his
influence. The biochemical process in our DIY Urine-to-Fertilizer kit is an
example of  an action a sentient ecosystem might take because it pairs an
excess (which would be waste or output) with a need (an opportunity for
consumption or input) in a local microsystem. Kit users transform their
urine into fertilizer for their houseplants, harnessing their own excreted
nutrients and keeping pharmaceutical micropollutants in their own sphere of
influence. While systemic change is no doubt needed, it must be accompanied
by all of our individual transformation into local brokers within our own
designed environments. We may need to create new tools that give us more
in-depth insights into needs and excesses in our micro-environments more
quickly and easily.

Life that is not appropriately situated can be a regional energy drain. Our
installation consumed more power than anything else in the vast gallery
where it is housed. Over one month, it will have used more power than I use
at home to support two people for 8 months.  Most of the installation's
energy use went to an aquarium life support system for three 3 tiny fish and
a small sea anemone. To replicate the most basic natural conditions present
in 4 square yards of the ocean in Fiji inside a cold, dark New York building
clearly created a disproportionate drain on the larger local energy
exchange. The inappropriate placement of our fish is not sustainable.  (By
extension, imagine how much energy it would take to replicate our own
natural environment on another planet.) A certain magic happens when
compatible living things are physically situated next to one another and
next to inorganic matter on which they rely. How will we humans support the
energy requirements of a world we have already so radically rearranged?

I am so grateful for this opportunity for discussion and eagerly await your


Britta Riley

Britta Riley
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