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Genesis of a Microbial Skin – Beehives designed for urban environments

Created by AnneMarie MaesGenesis of a Microbial Skin is a mixed media installations and a research project exploring the idea of Intelligent Beehives with a focus on smart materials, in particular microbial skin. The project is about predominantly growing Intelligent Guerilla Beehives from scratch, with living materials – just as nature does.

The Intelligent Guerilla Beehive is a sensing device which mirrors the pullution of the environment. Through colonies of ‘color-changing’ bacteria –living on the skin of the hive it sends out warnings. At the same time it is a device which monitors the bees’ wellbeing. It is a radically new beehive designed for urban environments. The Intelligent Guerilla Beehive proposes a concrete starting point for an exploration of possible futures through artistic research on material science and biotechnology. Navigating between a blueprint and a proof of concept, the Intelligent Guerilla Beehive can be seen as an artifact from the future, a fragment of a world to come. AnneMarie use this tangible design to tell a compelling story; and through the installation, constructed with various elements of my experiments, she creates an immersive experiential future.

We urgently need to make our lifestyles less destructive for the environment and develop new biotechnological applications that help us to keep our world sustainable in the long run. This project sets steps on a roadmap to achieve these goals. It tackles a new challenging application domain where a collaboration between human and non-human actors is necessary to keep up the resilience of the system.

The project started with research into Palynology, a study of pollen grains and other spores since pollen can give us useful information on the environment, for a wide range of purposes. She then worked to create small objects to experiment with the behaviour of matter, to explore material structures and to research emerging artistic phenomena.

She experimented with micro-organisms and organic materials to create thin membranes and surfaces grown by a symbiotic community of bacteries and yeast cells. In the second phase, this leather-like cellulose skin was augmented with living technology. She experimented with biofilms, filled with useful microbes for environmental sensing as well as with biofilms with antibiotical properties. When the bees landed upon the designed outer skin of the beehive, the pollution particles come in contact with the bacteria living in the biofilm layer which was envelopping the outer shell of the Intelligent Beehive grown out of microbial cellulose. The experiments proved that the microbial cellulose is a good growth medium for the bacterial colonies. Once the skin was developed, the team built custom hardware and software in order to continually monitor the sounds on different spots in the beehive. Videos show 365 days of activity inside a real observation beehive, played back at higher speed.

The images were recorded with an infrared camera inside the hive and processed using pattern recognition, AI and graphics algorithms. Another video shows a graphical rendering of AI analysis of colony behavior combining real audio data with measurements of microclimate inside the hive: temperature, CO2 and humidity and using Deep Learning to detect patterns in the data. The data were transformed into a multi-dimensional feature space, and presented to a Deep Learning network to extract categories capturing patterns of activity through unsupervised learning. An original visualisation was developed which represents categories as attractors in a projected 3d space, with the size of the attractor reflecting the strength of the category.

For more information on the project and detailed info about the experiments, see links below.

Project PageAnneMarie Maes

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