I recently debuted a new art installation called Cybernetic Spirits at the L.A.S.T. Festival. This is an interactive electronic artwork, where participants generate sonic arrangements based on various sacred fluids. These include both historical liquids-of-workshop such as holy water, blood and breast milk and more contemporary ones such as gasoline and coconut water.
My proposal got accepted. Next, I had to actually collect these fluids.
My original list included: blood, holy water, coffee, gasoline, adrenaline, breast milk, corn syrup, wine, coca-cola, coconut water, vaccine (measles), sweat and kombucha
Some of these were easily procured at the local convenience store and a trip to the local gas pump. No problem.
But what about the others? I found holy water on Amazon, which didn’t surprise me, but then again this wasn’t anything I had ever thought about before.
I knew the medical ones would be the hardest: adrenaline and a measles vaccine. After hours scouring the internet and emailing with a doctor friend of mine, I realized I had to abandon these two. They were either prohibitively expensive or would require deceptive techniques that I wasn’t willing to try.
Art is a bag of failures and I expected not to be entirely successful. Corn syrup surprised me however. After my online shipment arrived, I discovered was sticky and too thick. It is syrup after all. Right. My electrical probes got gunky and more to the point, it didn’t conduct any electrical current. No current = no sound.
Meanwhile, I put out feelers for the human bodily fluids: blood, sweat and breast milk. Although it was easy to find animal blood, what I really wanted was human blood (mine). I connected with a friend of a friend, who is a licensed nurse and supporter of the arts. After many emails, we arranged an in-home blood draw. I thought I’d be squeamish about watching my blood go into several vials (I needed 50ml for the installation), but instead was fascinated by the process. We used anti-coagulant to make it less clotty, but it still separated into a viscous section at the bottom.
Since I am unable to produce breast milk, I cautiously inquired with some good friends who are recent moms and found someone willing to help. So grateful! She supplied me with one baby-serving size of breast milk just a couple of days before the exhibition, so that it would preserve better. At this point, along with the human blood in the fridge, I was thankful that I live alone and didn’t have to explain what was going on to skeptical housemates.
I saved the sweat for the last-minute, thinking that there was some easy way I could get sweaty in an exercise class and extract some. Once again a friend helped me, or at least tried, by going to a indoor cycling class and sweating into a cotton t-shirt. However, wringing it out produced maybe a drop or two of sweat, nowhere close to the required 50ml for the vials.
I was sweating over the sweat and really wanted it. I made more inquiries. One colleague suggested tears. Of course, blood, sweat and tears, though admittedly I felt like I was treading into Kik Smith territory at this point.
So, I did a calculation on the amount of tears you would need to collect 50ml and this would mean a crying a river everyday for about 8 months. Not enough time and not enough sadness.
Finally, just before shooting the documentation for the installation, the sweat came through. I friend’s father works for a company that produces artificial sweat and gave me 5 gallons of this mixture. It was a heavy thing to carry on BART, but I made it home without any spillage.
Artificial sweat? Seems gross and weird. The truth is a lot more sensible. A lot of companies need to test human sweat effects on products from wearable devices to steering wheels and it’s more efficient to make synthetic sweat than work with actual humans. Economics carves odd channels.
My artwork often takes me on odd paths of inquiry and this was no exception. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with all the sweat I have stored in my fridge.