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What’s living in the Watt?

“at low tide” is interested in deriving a sense of landscape that goes beyond what the human eye normally associates with visualization.  We too often regard the concept of landscape, or scenery with the assumption of human scale as a given for our ideas of place.

Schillig close-up & Dr. Cypionka micro-image

Schillig close-up & Dr. Cypionka micro-image

As artists, we also are attempting to address the perception of nature as separate from culture, for it is this binary that allows for environmental degradation to take place. The perception of nature (in this case, the ecosystem of the Watt) as an external and “eternal constant” [1] allows humans to rationalize their use of the land without regard for the impact that use may have on the land itself and future generations of beings, both animal and human.  Certainly one of the easiest life forms to disregard as inhabitants, by virtue of their ocular invisibility in the landscape, is the microscopic.  In this project, our goal is to visualize the relationship between the Watt and the cultures (both human and particularly the microscopic) that live in and around it in such a way as to conflate the nature – culture binary, and reveal the symbiotic reality that lies beneath these relationships.

One way to address this perception is through the manipulation of scale. The Watt, an almost incomprehensibly large and unique ecosystem, may seem indestructible simply because of its large size. The “at low tide” project simultaneously images the micro-material of the Watt through magnification, and the vastness of the landscape through miniaturization, photography, and places them more or less on the same scale. This juxtaposition of scales constitutes a poetic remapping of the Watt designed to inspire a revaluation of nature – culture, land – human relationships.

"at low tide" micro-section (detail) C.N. Hung - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

"at low tide" micro-panorama section (detail) C.N. Hung - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

Dr. Cypionks's ICBM office

Dr. Cypionks's ICBM office

With the aid of scientists at the ICBM of University of Oldenburg, we collected samples of soil and water from various sites. As we collect these samples, we documented the process and the sites in the Wattenmeer at Schillig, Germany.  With guidance of Dr. Cypionka from the ICBM, we processed the soil and water samples and harvested various microorganisms present within them.  These selected organisms meet the criteria for “biosafety level 1,” [2] which are not known to cause disease in healthy humans.

  1. [Andreas Roepstorff, Nils Bubandt, Kalevi Kull. “Imaging Nature: Practices of Cosmology and Identity” (2003). Introduction: The critique of culture and the plurality of nature. (p. 10). Denmark: Aarhus University Press.]
  2. [Richmond, JY and RW McKinney, 1993: Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories. US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC/NIH, 3rd Edition. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.]

Dr. Heribert Cypionka, ICBM

"wattbewohner", © Heribert Cypionka

"wattbewohner", © Heribert Cypionka

Pictures of selected micro-organisms are spread over the image like memory cards and in connection (via blue lines) with their specific habitat. Their diversity and beauty becomes visible only at 300- to 1000-fold magnification. Some of the pictures are combined from series of exposures taken at different focus levels, thus increasing the depth of sharpness (by means of the freeware PICOLAY). One can see diatoms, the larva of a copepod, a foraminifer, Euglena and a nematode. On three pictures, bacteria as the most abundant organisms are detectable. More about tidal-flat communities can be found on the web under [H. Cypionka]

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