I have been fortunate to spend one month in a bioart residency at Cultivamos Cultura in Sao Luis, Portugal, from May 2nd to June 1st, 2022. Cultivamos Cultura is a platform for the experimentation and development of shared knowledge in science, technology, and contemporary art theory and practice. Marta de Menezes, a renowned Portuguese bio-artist, heads this institution in collaboration. The residence is in Marta's husband's huge family home. Full of old pictures and antique furniture, fruit trees, and gardens, it can host up to 20 people in more than twelve rooms if I remember well and is very welcoming.
The lab and working spaces are in the barn.
The house is in São Luis, a village of about one thousand residents, situated 195 km south of Lisbon and 14 km east of Vila Nova de Milfontes. Milfontes lies at the heart of the beautiful Alentejo coastline of the Atlantic Ocean and on the northern margin of the river Mira large estuary and ecosystem.
All my collaborative work with Ada Gogova and my work are about the Mira River. During my time at Cultivamos Cultura I met a lot of artists including Agnes Chavez, Cosima Herter, Eileen Ryan, Sacha Spacal, my dear Kathy High.
Our joint project about interface and water, named "How can we transform wine into water" evolved and deepened during this residency, with Marta's constant support.
Water is the interface that allows communication inside living bodies and outside. But the conventional Western view of water does not recognize this aspect. As women from a western culture, we must rewrite the paternalist Christian cultural tales of the Last Supper- in which the wine is a symbol of human interconnection with God- and Christ's baptism to present our stories based on a holistic and sympoietic togetherness mediated by water. For that, we decided to perform a Baptism in the name of the River Mira -a pre-Christian Lusitanian God-and a Dinner where we symbolically transform wine into water. During this Dinner, we wear the white clothes we put on during the baptism. The evidence of our holobiontic nature hides on our clothes, where we wrote messages such as: "This is my waterbody, and my blood is water". This message is invisible when we inoculate the fabric. However, the growing microbial colonies from our microbiota gradually reveal it. During the exhibition of this work at the Ectopia gallery in Lisbon, we will show our clothes covered by the microorganisms' cultures (dead) and videos: the baptism, the Dinner, our everyday swims. Glass columns, with the Mira River subsoil and microorganisms, and another one with patches of my dermal cultures, show our communication/conversation with the river Mira at microscopic and macroscopic scales.
I also used the Cultivamos Cultura's microscopes and scientific equipment to experiment and enjoy growing my microbiota and microalgae on my skin.
Riding the residence car - free to use by any resident-, Ada and I collected waters, mud samples, and, of course, microorganisms from 4 main spots along the riverside, from its freshwater springs in the Santa Clara dam, to its mouth, at Vila Nova de Milfontes.
I cultivated microalgae from each spot on my skin and observed my skin reactions and the survival -or not- of the microalgae during the two-weeks encounter.
In addition, I made control cultures, growing the same microalgae on agar with my urine and sweat, to know if it is my microbiota or the toxicity of my exudates that kill or choose to let survive those algae.
I am still analyzing my data. I will send them later to ArcHIVE, the Cultivamos Cultura’s open source digital platform.
During my time at Cultivamos Cultura I met a lot of artists including Agnes Chavez, Cosima Herter, Eileen Ryan, Sacha Spacal, my dear Kathy High.
Thanks again to Marta, Sally Santiago, Nuno Sousa, Diana Aires and all the great persons I met for their support, help and advice.
To learn more about Cultivamos Cultura visit their website: https://cultivamoscultura.com/
This residency is supported by INCUBATOR Art Lab
Image Credit: Nathalie Dubois Calero, Cultivamos Cultra Residency, 2022.