(Note to the board of the exhibition St(*)rboretum - dated: 24/11/97)

To insure our inclusion of all the variables with which we must eventually deal, we will always start synergetically with the universe... And now that we've defined universe, it provides us with the master containment.

(Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth)

The system was wide, Ryumin thought. There was room in it for a thousand modes of life, a thousand hopeful monsters... Only time could tell the difference between aberration and advance.

(Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix)

Module Redux (in a nutshell)

A small radioactive source is added to the Belmonte Arboretum.

The Autonomous Biological-Mechanical Starship Universe

The self-appointed task of davidkremers, Mike Tyler and myself is to re-contextualize the Belmonte Arboretum in Wageningen as a world-unto-itself, a self-contained vehicle (or starship) engaged in a journey to the border of human scale and perception. [1] It has never been our intention to add 'art works' to the Arboretum or use it as the background for an 'exhibition'. As such, the working title 'Beelden op de Berg' translated as 'Sculptures on the Mountain' is a complete misnomer.

The artists believe that the re-contextualization of the Arboretum should occur principally in the mind of the wanderer-visitor, and the goal is best achieved with a minimum of visual 'interference'. The park as it exists is already perfect in its AS IS state. We believe that the additions and changes made by the artists should be subtle and immaterial rather than overt and material. Our work is conceptual and experiential, the additions being applied to the entire system, that is, to the park or garden as a 'universe' or as a (biological) 'vehicle-machine'.

Without the information (provided by the artist) the Arboretum remains pristine, undisturbed by troublesome art. In order to "get the art" the wanderer-visitor must get the information. With the right information each tree and piece of the Arboretum takes on a new countenance.

The information is the map. Korzybski elucidated the semantic relationship between the map and the territory by his statement that the "map is not the territory". Recently, post-structuralist research has broken the metaphor completely with its claim that there is in fact no territory, only maps referring to other maps in an endless chain of reference. I believe however, that territories do exist and that new maps create its contours, effectively bringing the new territory into being. The real work in Wageningen involves drawing a set of new maps, Michelin Guides for the New Territory of Belmonte. Maps that are simultaneously based on cosmology, gene science and the esthetics of expression.

The map, the territory, the vehicle or machine, our human limitations... One of the reasons that I'm intrigued by the idea of a starship is because of the impossible challenge it presents to our mind. A starship appeals to our sense of adventure and imagination but at the same time is beyond our scale of thought. Traveling at the speed of light it would take (tens of) thousands of years to reach other solar systems. Given the rate of our cultural and scientific evolution, how could a single human generation initiate such an endeavor and then expect the following tens or hundreds of generations to (humanly) see it through? [2]

The Longevity Module

We, the artists, decided at the outset of the project to break our starship model into modules. The idea was that we could later easily add to and reconfigure our model by simply removing 'spent' modules and plugging in new ones. This structure, commonplace in the design of complex systems, provides us with a evolvable and flexible model.

My proposal for the project was to contribute a 'long life' module.

The medical-industrial prospect of a dramatic increase in human longevity is one of the fundamental tenets of the approaching Post-Humanism era. In our current culture children are the only ones who ask, "Why do we die?" however with increasing frequency intelligent adults are beginning to wonder, "What would it be like to live hundreds of years?"

The intention of the Longevity Module was to explore ways of communicating longevity through the interior design of the module and its arrangement of biological material. The module was to be a garden within the garden, with "its back turned on the space of the Arboretum". Intensive discussions between the board, the coordinators and the artists- as well as severe budgetary and logistic restrictions- have meant that the idea of the Longevity Module has been further refined and into a much simpler and more elegant form, the Master Containment.

The Master Containment

A natural radioactive source (Uranium) [3] is introduced to the Belmonte Arboretum. The Uranium [4] forms simultaneously a (poetic) sun or power source of the garden, the source of its laws, and its time piece.

The radioactive source is contained in the Master Containment. The radioactive source is ABSOLUTELY SHIELDED AND SAFELY CONTAINED. It is invisible BUT PRESENT as A DRAMATIC FORCE IN THE ARBORETUM.

There are two options concerning the shape of the Master Containment:

I. The Master Containment could take the form of a single (artificial) landscape stone (similar to a Japanese suiseki stone) approximately 100 centimeters long, 60 or 70 centimeters wide and 40 or 50 centimeters high. The stone would be enclosed by a secure fence. The fenced area would be considered as a garden within the larger garden (universe).

II. The Master Containment could also take the form of a concrete container or bunker, that is, as an architectural form. Like the artificial stone this form of Master Containment would be very unobtrusive (potentially nutshell sized?).

Direct and Indirect Implications

Notice: I view this as an extremely serious proposal. It is not intended as provocation. I realize the implications involved with doing the work and believe in the work's value and importance. THE WORK CAN BE SAFELY AND EASILY REALIZED. The risk involved is many times lower than other commonly accepted practices. [5]

The Arboretum is already a man-made container of life forms. A living and breathing machine that is part exotic, part indigenous. It is already (slowly) evolving into a starship. By adding the radioactive source I would kick-start it with more power.

The emission of radioactivity is inimical (hostile) to life but at the same time essential for life and the evolutionary process (particle damage causing mutation). Some microbial life forms flourish in the presence of radiation. [6] Rogue scientists like Lovelock and Margulis feel that biosphere would not be threatened by a global nuclear holocaust, but might even benefit in the long run.

Radiation drives mutation which drives speciation. Thus radioactivity plays a role in the creation of new forms of life. A nuclear source accentuates the autonomous nature of the system (territory, starship or universe). [7]

The work requires careful contextualization in the form of mapping process referred to above. The work continues my artistic development of autonomous systems and my personal elaboration of the nature-culture dichotomy.


[1] For an excellent example of the relation of human scale to cosmic scale see Charles Eames' film 'Powers of Ten'.

[2] See the ecologist Garrett Hardin's 'Exploring New Ethics for Survival' for some interesting ideas about the evolutionary ethics aboard a multi-generational starship.

[3] Uranium-238 is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope with a long decay chain, its atomic structure slowly breaks down into various other isotopes and elements before arriving at a stable configuration. The half-life of Uranium-238 is 4.47 billion years- which means that for a given number of atoms half of the number will have broken down into other isotopes every 4.47 billion years.

[4] Radioactivity and the radiation it produces existed on earth before life emerged. Radiation took part in the big bang which gave birth to the universe about 20 billion years ago. Since then it has pervaded the cosmos. Radioactive materials became part of the earth at its very formation. Even man himself is slightly radioactive, for all living tissues contain traces of radioactive substances. But it was only a century ago that humanity discovered this elemental, universal phenomenon.

The term radioactivity (word labels acting like maps) was coined exactly 100 years ago (July 1898) by Marie and Pierre Curie to describe activity of uranium and other isotopes (the emission of invisible 'rays' recorded by photographic emulsions ).

[5] Natural radioactivity is everywhere, yet the slightest hint of a tiny increase strikes terror into the collective mind of the public.

[6] Radiation loving bacteria (radio-extremophiles) include:

Deinococcus radiodurans
Deinococcus radiophilus
Agrobacterium radiobacter
Micrococcos radiodurans
Arthrobacter radiotolerans
Radiococcus radiodurans

[7] James Lovelock in 'Ages of Gaia' tells the story of 17 nuclear reactors which burned for hundreds of thousands of years starting nearly 2 billion years ago at Oklo and Bangombe in Gabon. These natural nuclear reactors were initiated by bacteria.


Covello, Vincent & Yoshimura, Yuji: The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation (1984)

Delanda, Manuel: Nonorganic Life

Hardin Garrett: Exploring New Ethics for Survival (1972)

Johnston, R: Scholar Gardens of China (1991)

Lillie, David: Our Radiant World (1986)

Lovelock, James: The Ages of Gaia (1988)

Margulis, Lynn & Sagan, Dorion: Microcosmos, four billion years of microbial evolution (1986)

Postgate, John: The Outer Reaches of Life (1994)

Stewart, Donald: Handling Radioactivity, a pratical approach for scientists and engineers (1981)

Tipler, Frank: The Physics of Immortality (1995)

United Nations Environment Program: Radiation: doses, effects, risks (1985)

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