Office of
Environmental Experiments

The Office of Environmental Experiments (OEE), is a participatory arts and technology initiative that aims to address the ecological and environmental health concerns of urban citizens, particularly those in marginalized communities, via novel and creative uses of ecological research, environmental monitoring, and renewable energy technologies. We seek to foster awareness and greater community agency and autonomy over issues of energy production, ecological stewardship and environmental health and resilience.



How has the seeming inability to adequately address environmental and ecological degradation affected our collective sense of agency? Working with community partners, we will establish an autonomous, community-run "Office of Environmental Experiments". In addition to helping us familiarize ourselves with specific problems and concerns of local community members, this office will be an open space for creative exploration and knowledge sharing and feature hands-on workshops, participatory art and design projects and community meetings and town hall-style discussions. Artworks, technological systems, creative actions and interventions will be created around these explorations, with the documentation, research, conversations, objects and imagery that result being shown in exhibition venues and online. By focusing on local concerns unique to members of specific communities, we aim to build a model of bottom up of decentralized, participatory community action that can serve as a model for other communities and lead to networks of community association and cooperation.

These proposed explorations offer a unique blend of science, technology, community activism and art. Rather than employing art to help community members "express" themselves in the traditional sense of the word, these explorations are primarily focused on utilizing the unique perspectives and unconventional thinking characteristic of the arts — combined with practical technological know-how — as a means of exploring possibilities for catalyzing change and establishing a greater sense of community agency and control over its environmental future. These explorations engage communities in building an atmosphere of knowledge sharing and collaboration with a goal of having the community be the driver of innovation and creative vision for itself.



We begin in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, China. One of the most serious challenges facing the residents of Wuhan is the pollution of their lakes, rivers and drinking water. With this in mind, this initiative will take advantage of the abundance of lakes, rivers and wetlands in Wuhan. Working with the K11 Arts Foundation, ISEA 2016 and local community partners, small production teams comprised of students, artists and members of the local community will devise appropriate artistic and technical strategies for addressing the pollution of the lakes, rivers and wetlands in and around Wuhan. The results will be digital/interactive artworks and creative actions throughout the city, with the documentation, research, objects and imagery that result being shown in Wuhan and at ISEA 2016 in Hong Kong.


This initiative uses art to explore alternative models of citizen participation in scientific research and civic involvement. In alignment with KAF's mission, this initiative will drive and facilitate cultural exchange, creating a new platform for cross-border dialogue. This exchange of knowledge with the local arts, educational and research community in Wuhan will lay the groundwork for future research, creative and educational collaborations that explore how artists, scientists and local communities can collectively address issues of environmental health and ecological sustainability.



As a collaborative effort with workshop and other community participants, some possible projects that could result from our explorations include:

Floating Data Wetlands: This would be a series of interactive, data-enabled floating wetlands housing sensors, lights and speakers, along with native plants and grasses. These devices would be deployed in lakes and rivers throughout the city and would measure various environmental conditions such as water quality and the presence of non-human species (e.g. fish). The wetlands would for example, change color and sound in response to the changing water quality. In addition, they could serve as sort of interspecies communication interface, allowing humans to contribute to the piece by receiving real-time information about the lake or river and by communicating with the non-human species located there via the Internet and mobile devices. A network of these data wetlands could be created and mapped, allowing participants to exchange information. Participants could also register to receive updates on this data and identify stations near them in need of care, in essence "adopting" these wetland systems. The light and sound produced by the wetlands would serve as indicators of species activity, water quality and collective human interest in the environment. The floating wetlands themselves may also improve the overall water quality of the lake or river where they are deployed (as well as providing shade for the fish, which is typically beneficial).

Mobile Bioenergy Lab: a creative research laboratory for experimentation with emerging bioenergy technologies such as microbial fuel cells (MFCs), devices that generate electricity from the metabolic reactions of bacteria found in diverse environments such as lakes, wetlands and kitchen waste. Through performance, workshops and interventions we will engage local residents in the exploration of these technologies. A small fleet of 3-wheeled bicycles or vendor carts can be deployed in and around Wuhan, collecting wastewater, kitchen waste, and offering offering impromptu demonstrations doing demonstration and construction of MFC systems. Expeditions to local aquatic/wetland environments to construct ad-hoc MFCs “on-site” as an installation/performance is also a possibility, as is a more traditional art installation consisting of a series of electronic sound and visual systems that interpret the chemical and electricity-generating processes of various kinds of MFCs. Exhibitions could also display real-time microscopy of the activity of the microorganisms present in the MFCs. Other renewable bioenergy technologies amenable to simple diy construction can also be explored (e.g. solar chimneys, algae bioreactors, etc).

Urban Micro-ecology Stations: Similar to the Floating Data Wetlands this is a performance and participatory mapping project where participants install urban "micro-ecology" stations, small chunks or “mini” versions of local ecosystems, in strategic locations across Wuhan (e.g. outside Metro stations). These micro-ecology stations could be used to filter storm water runoff and other urban impurities from water. They are also excellent carbon sinks (better than trees). Like the wetlands, each station can be equipped with sensors to measure relevant atmospheric and environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, CO2 levels, etc.) and interested participants can register to receive updates on this data and identify stations near them in need of care. The micro-ecology stations would also function as kiosks: providing information on the history, current status and future prospects of the for Wuhan's lake, river and marshland habitats.


More information coming soon.
Contact person: Carlos Castellanos (e-mail: )
Photographic credit: Carlos Castellanos
Photographic credit: Carlos Castellanos
Photographic credit: Carlos Castellanos
Photographic credit: Carlos Castellanos
Photographic credit: Carlos Castellanos