Week 23: Biosphere 2

Hi Everyone,

This Tuesday is another event in a year-long series of weekly conversations and exhibits in 2010 shedding light on examples of Plausible Artworlds.

This week we’ll be talking with Vienna-based artist Ralo Mayer who has been researching “Biosphere 2,” a radical experiment from the 1980s that sought to reproduce the earth’s biosphere in a gigantic, hermetically sealed greenhouse in the middle of the Nevada desert, where a group of eight artists — self-described for the purpose as “bions” — went to live in total isolation from the rest of the world for two years. Inside, they would produce, seed and harvest all the food they needed to live, while closely tracking biospheric conditions.

As it happened, the group’s mission in this Noa’s Ark of the desert coincided with the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent redefining of global priorities, including scientific priorities. The project drew sharp criticism from the academic community — perhaps jealously guarding its role as arbiter of biospheric knowledge — which dismissed it as crackpot science, leading the project’s financier to withdraw his support, and the group disbanded. Today, the greenhouse and the property on which it is located has been purchased by a local real estate developer, who has applied to turn the area into an upscale gated community.

Named after Biosphere 1 (that is, our Earth), the project was both a time machine and a scale model. It was above all, in the words of its initiators, a “time microscope enabling the witnessing of as many events as possible in a short period of time.” In many respects, Biosphere 2 has exceeded all expectations in the witness it continues to bear to life here in Biosphere 1. Ralo Mayer’s extensive research into the hopes, prospects, dreams and illusions of Biosphere 2, as well as its all too prosaic fate, is part of his long-term research series, “How to do things with worlds.”