Hybrid Art

Goldene Nica - Golden Nica

Plantas Autofotosintéticas

Gilberto Esparza (MX)


This symbiotic system re-imagines the management of sewage in order to salvage its potential as a source of energy. It is made up of a set of modular microbial fuel cells for the development of colonies of bacteria whose metabolism produces electricity and improves water quality. The modules create a hydraulic network that feeds bio-filtered water into the central container, creating an optimal environment where producer species and consumer species from different trophic levels (protozoa, crustaceans, micro algae, and aquatic plants) can achieve homeostatic equilibrium. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as bursts of luminous energy, enabling photosynthesis by the plants living in the central container, which thereby complete their metabolic processes. When the organic material present in the microbial cells has been entirely consumed, an electronic monitoring network is responsible for pumping the byproducts generated by the species in the nuclear ecosystem out into the modular cells, restoring the cycle.

Plantas autofotosintéticas (autophotosynthetic plants) is the result of an inquiry arising from a question about the present-day society’s relationship with water, which has prioritized its economic value and utility. Human settlements get their water from rivers, lakes, groundwater, through major engineering works that extract it and incorporate it into a cycle of use and disposal, taking little account of the huge network of vital relationships involved. Today many large Latin American cities use their rivers as sewers. The most important rivers are almost dead, breaking the balance of entire ecosystems, also affecting rural settlements along their course. This project raises the need to reestablish connections and reconfigure our relationship with water in a symbiotic way.

Plantas autofotosintéticas feed mainly on urban waste water. This organism is a symbiotic, self-regulating system that seeks to preserve life. It uses the energy available in the waste water to generate light, photosynthesize and improve water quality. It consists of a set of bio-cells or microbial fuel cells interconnected to form a hydraulic network. Growing inside the cells are colonies of bacteria that live in urban waste water either from rivers or drainage systems that serve as means of disposal.

Microbial fuel-cell modules function as a digestive system. The waste water enters through the top of the modules and falls through the cells by gravity. Anaerobic bacteria are responsible for metabolizing organic matter, producing bio-filtered water and electricity. In short, its metabolism produces oxidative reactions releasing electrons, which are captured and concentrated in a capacitor to produce flashes of light.

The water and light resulting from this process are used by the central container: the nucleus, where an optimal environment is created for producers and consumers species from different trophic levels (protozoa, crustaceans, algae and aquatic plants) achieving a homeostatic balance. The electricity produced by the bacteria is released as bursts of light energy, which allows the plants living in the nucleus to photosynthesize. The plants transform light and micronutrients into biomass as feed for consumers.

Finally, the nervous system is an electronic network responsible for monitoring energy and water cycles. It is like a rudimentary brain that connects and regulates the other two systems, i.e. the nucleus and the cell modules, fulfilling three functions. The first is responsible for registering electrical activity in each module’s microbial cells. The second controls the pumping of the nutrient-rich waste water. The third leads the bio-filtered water from modules to the nucleus. The Autophotosynthetic plants installation is accompanied by a monitoring center with maps showing points where water has come from, and a series of voltmeters to measure levels of electricity generated by each module. In this table there is also an instrument that translates the light activity of nucleus and the biological activity generated in the modules into sound. The waste water feeding the *plantas autofotosintéticas * comes from different parts of a city, with each site having different pollution levels according to the context. The level of pollution is expressed by the light intensity that feeds the nucleus.

This work refers to the type of pollutants generated in a city and salvages the potential of contaminated water as an energy source. The research presents a model of a self-regenerative water system which could be applied to cities.

A collaborative text by Gilberto Esparza, Constanza Díaz Mc Gregor (biologist) and Diego Liedo Lavaniegos (electronics).


Gilberto Esparza

Gilberto Esparza (MX), born in 1975, is a Mexican artist whose work involves electronic and robotic means to investigate the impacts of technology in everyday life, social relationships, environment and urban structure. He currently conducts research projects on alternative energies. His practice employs recycling consumer technology and biotechnology experiments. In his projects he has collaborated research centers such as the Research Group in Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Cartagena, Spain; Mechatronics Area of Cinvestav; Institute of Engineering, Juriquilla, UNAM; Digital Arts, University National Polytechnic Institute Guanajuato, Salamanca. Gilberto Esparza, graduated from the School of Fine Arts at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico and spent one year on exchange at the Faculty of Fine Arts of San Carlos in Valencia, Spain. As an artist he has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Mexico, the US, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Slovenia and Dhoa. He received the award for Latin American Production at Life 09 and second prize at Life 13 Fundación Telefónica of Spain and a Honorary Mention at the Prix Ars Electronica. He currently is a member of the National System of Art Creators in Mexico.

Supported by: Espacio Fundación Telefónica Lima, Fundación Telefónica Mexico