"Why is the sea blue? Why do butterflies fly? Why does the sun rise?" are questions children ask to explore the nature and boundaries of life. It is an important step for connecting scientific and creative thinking. Our cultural symbolism has vastly expanded thanks to science and interdisciplinary approaches to research that are continually increasing in popularity. Due to science, we can think of a person as a fragment of the universe continuing to exist and succeed in this vast entity.

"From General to Specific" is my poetic interpretation of the knowledge that I obtained from observing tiny and extremely fragile organisms - unicellular algae. How to see, study, maintain and care, how to translate scientific language into a poetic process to create art? How to grasp the huge system comprising the world and understand how unique it is? And what does the knowledge of marine biology tell our technology-focused society or which fields outside the traditional fields of research are we also going to be able to explore in the future? Those were the key questions that I asked myself while developing the exhibition. This exhibition is part of my doctoral thesis titled "Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Collaboration. Art & Science".

The exhibition was developed thanks to a productive collaboration with the TUT Marine Systems Institute.
Special thanks to: Inga Lips, Karin Ojamäe, Madis Listak and the BT-Style team.

Metagenomic museum

Gregory Bateson has said: The viable unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment.

The current state of science allows important information to be stored as extremely small units, DNA for example contains far more information about our heredity than stuffed animals, for instance. Could the museum of the future consist of just a number of test tubes for example? Like a genome centre that stores vast amounts of information about us? The data of several Estonian bodies of water are before you, small water bodies contain information about the tiniest of organisms. Based on the key principles of metagenomics it could be said that the best way to study and store information about an organism is the organism itself and its surrounding environment because no supercomputer or scientific institution is capable of storing and processing the vast data set containing all of the information.
What is most important from the above is however what G. Bateson means: each living being must understand the simple truth – unable to maintain its environment, it is principally destroying itself.

Portraits of Voyagers

A teaspoonful of seawater contains far in excess of a million living beings, including plankton. The word plankton is derived from the Greek word πλαγκτός, which means "lost" and in a broader meaning also "voyager". Microscopic organisms that inhabit all bodies of water play a vital role in the life on Earth. They are the lowest linkages of food chains, primary producers, getting their energy from photosynthesis and producing oxygen.
Being only 1% of the biosynthetic mass on Earth, they account for almost 45% of the annual oxygen production. But not only that – they can also negatively impact our environment because the concentration of plankton in water bodies is continually increasing. This harms our future living environment because excessive growth of algae changes the balance of the aquatic environment and thus the living conditions of all other creatures.
I portray a number of voyagers who I have met in our water bodies and who I would like you to meet.

PacMan – Plastid Hunt

Although the microscopic life forms of the aquatic world look pretty and amiable on the surface, this environment is full of angry and wild creatures. People are yet to know all the strange behaviours and interrelations that take place in this biome but simplistically it could be said that a real mafia is operating in this superficially godly society, even killings and organ thefts take place.
Kleptoplasty is the theft of plastids that starts from the cryptophytes, microalgae who fall victim to ciliates. The ciliate swallows its prey cells whole and almost completely digests them with only plastids left. The ciliate then nonchalantly continues to use them to produce energy it needs from solar energy and carbon dioxide. The ciliate itself is coveted by some dinoflagellate species that by themselves are unable to acquire plastids from their original owner and require intermediaries for this purpose. The ciliate intermediary has done a lot of work collecting and packaging plastids and this industriousness is taken advantage of by lazier but ultimately stronger characters.
Scientists discovered only in 2006 that kleptoplasty as a peculiar and hyperaggressive behaviour that takes place in the food chain has a major role in the algae community. Although micro algae behaving like this are extremely rare, this discovery is completely sufficient to disprove current principles of the functioning of life. Using the parallel of the well-known computer game PacMan, I provide my own interpretation of the peculiar relationships in the algae society, showing that behavioural and game strategies in different worlds are surprisingly similar – the end justifies the means, the stronger and more deceptive prevail and thus stay alive.

Research material by Karin Ojamäe forms the basis of the video, underwater sound recordings: Madis Listak


What if we stopped following the binary system consisting of 0s and 1s established by Alan Turing in our way of thinking? What if our computer world were ruled by biological and chemical supercomputers? What if humankind could create databases based on artificial protocells? What if such a technology could supply itself with energy and replenish itself? What if biological resources could make us quit for good expensive production methods, heavy metal, vast cable arrangements and diagrams?
The word “roboautotroph” is the combination of two words – robots and photoautotrophs, it is my mental image of the amalgamation of the artificial and natural world. Photoautotrophs – microorganisms obtaining energy from the sun and from CO2 and using it for biosynthesis and photosynthesis are a huge source of natural energy and thus useful in many ways to humankind in light of future research.
The production of biofuel is not anything new, neither are ideas about increasing future food resources but a more tempting idea is synthetic biology, the possibility of connecting life and artificial life. How to understand and resolve the dilemma between two methods of data communication – digital and material-based or chemical communication if Turing’s binary system becomes exhausted? The scientific idea of a material-based communication is based on chemical reactions and vastly expands our future opportunities.
I will start from the simplest and study the habitat living in the aquarium and try to translate the information received from it to a digital language that robots can understand. The system of simple measurement instruments and basic robotic movements in turn reflect my complex questions that could be important for all of us – how can life and digital life coexist better and more effectively without destroying each other? And are we also ethically prepared for such coexisting?