Entanglement of desert water
Entanglement of desert water

Entanglement of desert water

New work in progress: A water-led storytelling in the driest bed of an ancient sea

A connection between a desert, unique water dependent ecosystem and a push to lithium-led transition away from fossil fuels.


This site, Atacama, an ancient inland sea, ringed by volcanos, now the driest desert in the world, where the salty crust and the underground brine water recalls its deep past as a sea, rich in lithium salts.

Of the unique lithium rich saline water, twice as salty as the ocean, and of the complex ecosystem evolved to exist in this exquisitely dry environment.

Of energy policies in centres such as Bussels, and of its impact on remote lands in peripheries.

Before Air There Was Water/ Antes del aire hubo agua

4 channel video installation, commissioned for SACO Bienal, GOLPE/ COUP  Chile, June – Sept 2023.

The first phase of this tenticular research.

This storytelling is about a site of watery contest; between mining and environment, where the salty residues of an ancient sea are increasingly extracted for a lithium-led path to a climate-neutral future. A collapse of time underneath a crust of dusty salt in the salare.

Cyanobacteria have been here since the beginning. Before all other living things on the planet there was earth, water and bacteria. Before their was air, cyanobacteria collaboratively photosynthesized much of all the oxygen in the Great Oxidation Event, 2.4 billion years ago.

The first protagonist in this storytelling is the water and the phases it exists in this place: in natural water bodies (lagoons), in artificial evaporation ponds in the lithium mine sites, bound to salts in the Atacama salare basin, and the invisible (or un-visualisable) ground water, between 20 to 200 meters below the ground

The second protagonist is the cyanobacteria that has uniquely evolved to live in these saline lagoons; twice as salty as seawater. They are the main food source for brine shrimp, which themselves support iconic flamingos and other animals. Each coloured pink-orange by the pigment produced by the cyanobacteria.

These cyanobacteria, metabolically linked to those first cyanobacteria in that first sea; before there was air; here magically photosynthesizing sunlight and CO2 into oxygen, and supporting a complexity of ecology.

Bacteria-water-air-ecosystems-energy policies

This is a multimodal tenticular research opening with field work to the desert, conversations with scientists, time in laboratories for a multi screen video installation for the SACO Bienial, Chile, June-Sept 2023

The second phase, digital twin intersections and sculptural installation, is planned for Brussels, spring 2025 as part of NaturArchy, details to follow.

Current research:

photogrametry from drone photography undertaken on fieldwork to Atacama. To build digital twins of these remote lagoons. These will be intersected / disrupted/ transformed by realtime datastreams from EU lithium led policies and daily lithium spot prices.

Future research and current thoughts:

The cyanobacterial pigment: Light-harvesting  pigments such as chlorophyl, carotenoids and phycobiliproteins. These cyanobacterial trans-membrane proteins convert photons: the first eyes….

Microbial-based wastewater treatment: algae and cyanobacteria are being studied as potential uses to metabolise excesses of nitrogen, carbon, phosphorous, or heavy metals present in water.

Currently recalling:

In Feb 2023, working with the GLobal Water team at the JRC. Locating the Sentinel satellite data from the Atacama salare, via the  Global Surface Water app.

Scientific collaborators:
University of Antofagasta; Dr Benito Gómez-Silva, Biochemistry Laboratory, Biomedical Department

Dr Cristina Dorador, Department of Biotechnologia.

Joint Research Centre, EU (JRC) Global Surface Water Atlas

Resonances Sci-Art Project

The making of this work was supported by the Australia Council for the Arts through a New Work grant, Stimuleringsfond Netherlands through a Starting and Project Development Grant and JRC European Commission SciArt Resonances Project IV: NaturArchy