The Great Lakes Algae Organ

The Great Lakes Algae Organ (2016) a bicycle propelled street organ that grows and displays living spirulina algae. Audiences are invited to enjoy live organ music while engaging with a live algae colony. The organ becomes a talking point to discuss algae’s many roles as a superfood, as the largest producer of oxygen in our atmosphere, as a possible source of biofuel, and as an invasive species infesting waters in The Great Lakes. People are invited to crank the street organ and view living samples of algae under the microscope. It is an absurdist object – connecting the science and technology of farming algae with a long Dutch tradition of street entertainment. But it is this absurdity - this element of play - that invites members of the general public to let their guard down and have a complex engagement with a biological artwork – an artist, a scientist, and another species.

The Great Lakes Algae Organ is part of a series of modified laboratory equipment sculptures called Baroque Biology. This series challenges contemporary laboratory aesthetics emphasizing cold, sterile, masculine laboratory design that generally conveys a gendered, authoritative, Western, hierarchy of knowledge. Whereas lab equipment designed as part of Baroque Biology are counterintuitive, they imagine biotechnology research integrated into everyday life, life of the family and child, a life including imagination and play. Baroque Biology is gaudy and fantastical - somewhat like Marry Poppins (Disney, 1964). Baroque Biology engages in unconventional laboratory daydreams, toppling hierarchies, welcoming new actions and participants into scientific narratives.

Construction and Design Assistance: Billie McLaughlin.

Construction of The Great Lakes Algae Organ was supported by: The City of Windsor and the Ontario Arts Council and exhibited at Open Space Gallery (2016) in Victoria, BC and the W.A.V.E.S. Festival (2016) in Windsor, at Cape Breton University Gallery (2017), the Art Gallery of Windsor (2018), Science Gallery Detroit (2019), and The University of Waterloo Art Gallery (2020).

Project Assistants: Katie Huckson, Billie Mclaughlin, Shallen Chen.

Image Credits:
1) Jennifer Willet, 2016, The Great Lakes Algae Organ at Hamilton Artist Inc, Hamilton, Ontario, 2017. Image Credit: Caitlin Sutherland
2) Jennifer Willet, The Great Lakes Algae Organ, 2016. Image Credit: M. Amin Nadi.
3) Jennifer Willet, The Great Lakes Algae Organ, 2016. Image Credit: M. Amin Nadi.

Video Credit:
1) Jennifer Willet, The Great Lakes Algae Organ, 2016. Video Credit: M. Amin Nadi.