Artist in residence ends WUR-era with algae reactor

Artist Arne Hendriks turns a failed experiment into an exhibit.
Arne Hendriks at the Algaemist in Museum Rijswijk: ‘The hand symbolises the need to first get to know each other before we start asking questions. The temple stands for the enrichment of the culture surrounding algae, so that we may recognise algae on a non-utilitarian level as well.’ Photo Anja Janssen.

Text Anja Janssen

Arne Hendriks’ contract as WUR’s artist in residence has come to an end. He dedicated himself to the topic of protein transition for eighteen months. His tenure ends with a ‘dream experiment’ by algae researcher Rick Wieggers.

The Textile Biennial on the topic Food for Thought opened in Museum Rijswijk last Sunday. One of the exhibited pieces is a work by artist Arne Hendriks. He was inspired by his collaboration with WUR’s AlgaeParc.

In an algae reactor in the museum, three different algae strains grow simultaneously. It is AlgaeParc’s operational manager Rick Wieggers’ “dream experiment” that he designed in collaboration with Arne Hendriks. ‘Arne asked what I would consider my ideal research. My first reaction was: a self-maintaining algae reactor that you can deploy anywhere on Earth to produce algae. This was not feasible, so my second thought was growing different types of algae in a single reactor, each with their own use.’

This experiment was conducted for the first time in the AlgaeParc’s greenhouse on the Bornsesteeg this spring in a small reactor aptly named the Algaemist. That experiment failed as a result of human error when the air supply was accidentally shut off for several days. At first, Wieggers was upset. ‘From a scientific perspective, we had to stop the experiment.’ But Hendriks was of a different opinion. ‘My work is the process. Looking for purpose and having everything in a constant state of motion. For me, this incident was almost a gift.’

This also changed Wieggers’ perspective. ‘We continued the experiment to discover how algae react to such incidents.’ The alga Tisochrysis lutea survived the crisis best. ‘Sometimes, coincidence enables you to discover something different than you expected.’

Hendriks’ tenure and artist in residence has ended, but he is far from done with Wageningen. ‘I believe there is an artist in everyone. And that everyone has the capacity to develop that aspect of themselves. However, this aspect is sometimes stifled. I would like to increase the individual room for the artist in everyone at WUR so that the artist in residence – the creative, artistic way of perceiving the world – resides in every individual.’

Arne’s successor is Remco de Kluizenaar. He developed a computer game that shows you the effect of your food choices on your ecological footprint as you play.

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