Jenifer Wightman – 2022 Cornell Biennial

Jenifer Wightman

Shared Space: Seasonal color shift of species succession

Bioart Installation


  • Apr 22 - Sep 15, 2022
    Mann Library Lobby

  • Mann Library Gallery (2nd Fl)

  • Sep 15, 2022
    4:30-6pm
    Mann Library Gallery (2nd Fl)

  • Jenifer's Website
    Exhibit

Shared Space: Seasonal color shift of species succession

A commission for 2022 Cornell Biennial supported by the Cornell Council for the Arts, Mann Library, and RPI. Plexiglass containers (constructed by Dave Perry) with sensors (python coding by Coburn Wightman). Spring (left panel), mud from Beebe Lake amended with ~5% biochar. Fall (right panel), mud from Beebe Lake.

The installation references two 19th century paintings by Reizei Tamechika (Japanese, 1823-1864)
Spring landscape: Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino; Autumn landscape: Red Maples at Tatsuta River. The dimensions of these scrolls defined the construction of two plexiglass containers

To fill each frame, I collected mud from Beebe Lake, the swimming hole on Cornell’s campus
One painting is straight mud. The other is amended with biochar, a potential greenhouse gas mitigation strategy

Inside each frame are 7 sensors: 1 thermistor, 3 pH sensors, 3 eH sensors
The pH and eH sensors are embedded at three different depths. All sensors are reporting live biochemical data to the web

There are several goals for this new piece
See how biochar affects the pigmentation! See how pH and eH change overtime at different depths of the same starting material! Remove the front face in September and do some DNA sequencing! Who are the True Authors of these Microbial Landscape Paintings?

This project has had endless helpers, including but not limited to following fabulous people: Everyone at Mann Library but extra thanks to Peggy Tully, Eveline Ferretti, Sandra Smith Conrad, Yue Hao, Paul Jensen, Tobi Hines, Tom Trutt, Laura Heisey. Mann is one of my favorite monuments in the world. Technical and material support from John Szczesniak, Dave Perry, Ian Bishop, Johannes Lehmann, Annette Dathe, Jaehoon Choi. Friends and family: I am deeply indebted to my brother Coburn Wightman for all python coding for the sensors. Special winks to Simeon Warner, Kata Boroczky, Nancy Wightman, and Kathy High. Thanks also to Tim Murray, Erin Emerson, and Tina DuBois as well as Ellen Avril and the Johnson Museum.

Jenifer Wightman is a research scientist specializing in greenhouse gas inventories and life cycle analysis of agriculture, forestry, waste, and bioenergy systems at Cornell University, funded by USDA, NYS DA&M and others. Since 2014, she has been teaching “Sustainable Systems” and “BioDesign” at  Parsons – The New School for Design. Her art practice began in 2002 and employs scientific tropes to incite curiosity of biological phenomena and inform an ecological rationality. Her art has been commissioned by NYC parks, featured at the Lincoln Center, BAM, and Imagine Science Festival, and is held in collections such as the Morgan Library, Library of Congress, Gutenberg Museum, Bodmer Museum, and the Danish Royal Library.

Mud Paintings: 18 years of microbial landscapes

Soil is alive
After the invention of the microscope and just as we were discovering bacteria, a 19th century Russian biologist named Sergei Winogradsky put soil in a glass column and placed it on the window near his desk. He was determined to understand what was going on inside the soil by daily observation. Over time a red splotch formed in the brown column so he put his pipette down into the red spot, sucked up a sample and looked at it under the microscope — the particles moved.

Bacteria paint
Using Winogradsky’s technique, I make living colorfield paintings with microbes that photosynthesize pigment in unique soil samples. While individually invisible, growing populations of bacteria amass blocks of color as defined by conditions in each sample. As one species exhausts its preferred resources and dies out, another species thrives on the waste products of its predecessor. Transition of color indicates ecological succession of microfauna metabolizing a livelihood within a finite ecosystem.

Winogradsky Rothko, 2004
My first mud painting used mud from Beebe Lake and was named after the soil scientist Sergei Winogradsky and the colorfield artist Mark Rothko (known for horizontal bands of color). This pairing was chosen because the Winogradsky column sets up horizontal ecozones, with a sulfur rich anaerobic bottom and a sulfur poor aerobic top, resulting in a gradient that selects for different bacteria; the different bacteria create different colors in different horizontal zones, not unlike a Rothko painting.

See all Biennial Artists