Adam W. BROWN / US : Bioremediating Greenness – Rethinking Human Exceptionalism  
In the framework of the Un/Green conference keynote lectures UN/GREEN,
OM/POST/HUMAN, N/AI Thematic Panel and Featured Projects
RIXC / The Latvian National Museum of Arts

The Industrial Revolution, of the 18th and 19th centuries gave rise to modern cities removing humans from an entangled connection with nature. A growing body of genetic, physiological and psychological evidence suggests that hu- mans have evolved biologically and culturally to be attracted to greenness. It seems that our need for “green” was so strong that during the height of the Industrial Revolution we mass-produced arsenic laden synthetic green pigments that were used by artists, in garments, in printed wall paper and even as a colorant for candy. One of the most popular green pigments was invented in 1775 by the Swedish chemist Carl Scheele. Like many of the new synthetic pigments, “Scheele’s green”, as it was known, was composed of heavy metals that turned out to be highly toxic. Thus, the human drive to recreate greenness within cities led to a series of paradoxes and contradictions. The very chemical processes artificially employed to bring greenness back into people’s lives helped to contribute to the Anthropogenic destruction of the environment. Painters, such as the Impressionists, used these mass-produced toxic pigments to portray the very nature that the Industrial Revolution was eroding. And ironically, while these industrialized paints allowed painters to get more “in touch” with nature by painting en plein air for the first time, artists simultaneously lost touch with the materiality of producing their own paints. The further we re- moved ourselves from nature the more we tried to connect with it and the more our means of connecting led to its destruction. These speculations and scientific inquiries into humankind’s drive to artificially reconnect with ‘green’ are transposed into a series of artworks and experiments that investigate the various indexical relationships embedded in the production and use of Scheele’s green. I recreate the chemical processes by which the pigment is produced and transformed into paint, re-establishing the connection to materiality that industrialized tube paints destroyed. I produce Paris green wallpaper and recreate the moist conditions under which the paper becomes infested with fungus that breaks down the pigment into the gaseous arsenic compounds that poisoned Victorian households. I experiment with various bacterial ecologies that can metabolize and remediate the arsenic and transform it into safer compounds that can then be recycled with less toxicity thereby enlisting nature to rectify the very factors that threaten it.


Adam Brown (US) is an internationally recognized artist, scholar and educator whose work incorporates art and science hybrids including living and biological systems. Brown has exhibited in international venues including the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia; ZKM, the Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe; Ars Electronica, Linz; Synth-ethic, Vienna. His work has been written about widely in publications such as the New York Times, Wired, Nature, Sculpture Magazine, Washington Post, Forbes, PNAS, and Discover. Brown is currently  an Associate Professor at Michigan State University, where he directs the BRIDGE Artist in Residency.