Interstitial Alchemy by Catarina Reis

In ancient times practitioners of alchemy sought the transmutation of matter and the production of an elixir that would induce rejuvenation and cure all diseases, in a time when art, science, and mysticism belonged to the same realm. Although most of alchemy’s claims have been disproved by modern science, we now acknowledge its influence on the development of scientific methods. Through  speculative and ‘magical’ practices and narratives, alchemists dreamed of science for the future.

Interstitial Alchemy presents an experiment of practice-based artistic research, that speculates on the healing of aquatic ecosystems, through a process of transmutation of micro pollutants. The transmutation is mediated by a set of objects made from Zeolite clay. Zeolites possess a cage-like molecular structure that enables the selective ‘trapping’ of pollutants and toxins. To optimize this property, the work tests the production of porous and permeable objects, creating micro interstitial spaces, that could contribute to different ecological functions. This work is particularly interested in how an intervention on a microscale can affect broader ecosystems and their territories. In the last years scientists have demonstrated that ecological variability at small spatial scales—often less than a square meter — can have very significant consequences in big territories. So could we perform micro interventions that produce relevant transformations, potentially independent from anti-ecological political and economic and forces?

The installation is composed of three water tanks, connected through a water flow circuit. In the main tank is a set of Zeolite ceramic objects, capable of purifying the water. Behind the main water tank there are two screens representing two different scales of this system. In the other two tanks there is clean water, which the public is invited to contaminate with heavy metals and toxins, performing the role of a pollutant agent. Through this interaction the public is confronted with the negative effects of human actions in local aquatic environments, but also with the possibility of their remediation. While the water is flowing, the objects trap the noxious substances, changing their microstructure and physical appearance.

The design of these objects is inspired by the study of estuary oysters and freshwater pearl mussels – fundamental ecosystem healers capable of filtering  dozens of liters of water per day. The species of freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera is currently endangered in the Danube, even though it can live up to 100 years or even more. As many other mollusks, mussels form pearls when a strange particle, bacteria or virus penetrates inside of the shell, by building layers of nacre. In this work, Catarina proposes to explore an ‘alchemic’ transmutation of micro pollutants inspired by oysters and mollusks’ capacity to persist and create beauty out of trauma.

Opening: 1.9.2023, 19h

Exhibition duration: 2.9.- 21.9.2023

Opening hours from 14h to 19h: 2.9, 3.9, 10.9, 11.9