Speaking with the Sun

Susan Boafo

Catchment – Stage One: Speaking With The Sun (2006)

The digital video projection highlights the relationship between aquatic algae, sunlight and the Earth’s ecology. Each of the ‘giant’ letters appearing in the video is formed by the presence of thousands of microscopic, single celled algae.

Stencils for each letter were placed in front of jars containing the algae. The algae moved towards the light that passed through the stencils by a process called phototaxis, creating a new letter every fifteen minutes. The letters (or algae) spell out the scientific formula for photosynthesis.

An audience is encouraged to appreciate the way in which photosynthesis by aquatic algae produces the majority of the life-supporting oxygen that is required by all living organisms on earth. In return, our reciprocal relationship provides the algae with carbon dioxide. The viewer is also asked to consider their individual role in maintaining this fragile balance.

The sudden growth or ‘bloom’ of too many algae can have a devastating impact upon a marine ecosystem. Algal blooms caused by man made pollution within local waterways, have become a world-wide problem.

Ironically, during a bloom, some of the vital oxygen producing algae can cause suffocation for other marine life (due to oxygen depletion) and respiratory complications in humans (through the release of toxins).

Audio: collaboration and technical assistance – Patrick Simons
Additional Research Funding: Environment Agency, Arts Council England


(Images taken from the Artful Ecologies Exhibition, 12-15 July 2006.)

Speaking with the Sun (2006) has also been exhibited in Quimper, Brittany, France at the ‘Eureauterritoriales’ conference on 12-13 October. The conference was organised by the Cycleau Partnership, which is a transnational initiative that aims to share knowledge and best practice in the care of Europe’s rivers, estuaries and coasts.

The project fosters co-operation and an integrated approach towards sustainable environmental management by forming links at a local level between scientists, farmers, the public, wildlife and conservation groups, environment agencies, local authorities etc. The lessons learnt from these interactions are then passed on at events such as ‘ Eureauterritoriales’.

Cycleau has encouraged scientists and artists to collaborate in their responses to the environmental pressures threatening European waterways. The aim is for scientists to appreciate how their expert findings (which often appear in the form of complex data) might be more effectively communicated to and understood by the wider (river using) community. Cycleau have recognised the value of this collaborative arts and science activity as a key aspect of its philosophy, in the hope that its legacy will be further incorporated into work with local communities.

Speaking with the Sun was exhibited to scientists and other conference delegates from 18 different countries as an example of how a non-scientific audience might appreciate the vital relationship between their local marine environment and the Earth’s oxygen supplies