Worm Share

By Amy Youngs The Worm Share project encourages symbiotic relationships between humans and worms. Through experimental artworks, participatory designs, workshops and networking technologies, I facilitate the travel and propagation of composting worms into domestic spaces and encourage others to do the same. In exchange, the worm colonies provide valuable ecosystem services.

Eisenia Foetida is a species of worm suited to living in a wide variety of situations, including domestic spaces. These hearty creatures are able to efficiently turn our food and paper waste into plant fertilizer. Vermicomposting (worm composting) can happen in a very local way—in a kitchen, a basement, an office or in a bin embedded in furniture—and it can empower individuals to participate in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Landfills and organic wastes thrown in traditional composting bins decompose and emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. On the contrary, the process of vermicomposting emits no harmful gas or unpleasant odors. The byproduct of worms is a nutrient-rich material that looks and smells like soil.

The project began with artworks that integrated live worms into sculptures and furniture within domestic spaces. In my sculpture Digestive Table, for instance, a flow-through worm bag was built into a functional table so humans could literally share a meal with worms. People observed the composting activity of the worms on an LCD screen built into the table surface and connected to an infrared camera that monitored the worms’ activity below. I posted the building plans for this sculpture online to help popularize vermicomposting by inspiring others, who might also have desired a useful and aesthetically pleasing worm home, to reproduce the table. I soon discovered that there was far more demand for a simpler, utilitarian version of the flow-through worm bag—one without the table or the camera technology. Once I posted my simplified worm bag designs online, a community of builders developed. People I’d never met began to construct their own bags, ask me questions, post suggestions and upload photos of their finished projects—many of which, based upon a builder’s needs or the materials available, diverged widely from the original. I was impressed with the improvements and evolution of the design that spontaneously occurred just within the comments section of the instructions webpage: http://www.instructables.com/id/Worm-bin-bag-for-indoor-vermicomposting-and-easy-s/. With more than 59,000 viewers and 160 public comments, this project has had more exposure than most of my gallery exhibitions.

Recently, Worm Share has taken on the form of workshops that encourage people to design their own creative worm bins to fit their lifestyles and the needs of the worms. Everything from custom kitchen cabinets to bike trailer bins have been imagined and some of the new designs are being field tested now. All of the workshop participants who are ready to build their bins, are encouraged to take home a pound of free starter worms, which come from my own worm colony. Worms are a never-ending, regenerative source, multiplying based on the amount of food and space available. Workshop participants also learn how they can double their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by freely sharing their worms with friends and strangers. Worldwide worm sharing is possible through the online network, Vermicomposters.com, which encourages people to identify their general location on a map and willingness to share worms with others. Free and anonymous worm sharing regularly takes place in my town via porch drop-offs. In exchange, I encourage the people receiving starter worms to "pay it forward" and become a future worm-sharing node within this community of creative design and open-source sharing.

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[/aslideshow] World map of vermicomposters (red markers identify a person willing to share): http://vermicomposters.com/

Photos of Worm Share Workshop at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, OH: http://hypernatural.com/wormshare.html

Digestive Table sculpture and worm bag construction plans: http://hypernatural.com/digestive.html

Contributor’s biography Amy M. Youngs creates biological art, interactive sculptures and digital media works that explore the complex relationship between technology and our changing concept of nature and self. Obsessions include creating artificial nature experiences, spying on worms and constructing indoor, edible ecosystems. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is an Associate Professor of Art and Technology at The Ohio State University. To learn more about her, please visit her website at http://hypernatural.com.

Photo Credits: Photo 05 is a compilation of photos that were posted to the comments page of Young's "Instructable" for building a worm bin. Photo 08 from Spaces Gallery Staff.

Simulsuck and Womble Tumble Slide

My process involves the collection and reassembly of discarded materials. A recurring theme thatunites my work is reassigned (or voided) utility through a new context, and I work in several media—sculpture, video, drawing and performance. I scavenge large plastic appliances or electronics lying in the street or in garbage bins. By harnessing discarded materials, I utilize waste rather than produce it. Amidst the detritus that is continuously thrown away in a consumerist society, I search for connections and relationships between materials and concepts.

Lately, my work has taken a new direction: a mash-up of video, performance, sculptural assemblage and custom electronics. One example of this approach is a project entitled Simulsuck. This piece utilizes a custom video controller composed of discarded vacuum cleaners. The controller houses interactive electronic meters and dials that feed information such as volume and rate into the computer program Max/MSP/Jitter. The program then outputs the video while altering it according to the incoming data. For the video component, I gathered television commercials for cleaning products, such as mops, sprays, sponges and, of course, vacuum cleaners. The result is a rhythm-based, improvisational musical performance.

Another piece, Wobble Tumble Slide, also combines video, performance and sculpture, and it relies entirely on audience interaction. Rather than involving one performer and one controller, this new installation consists of three controllers, three video channels and multiple performers. When viewers enter the installation, the video screen shows a silent instructional loop. By picking up the sculptures and manipulating them by shaking, rocking and otherwise interacting with the moving parts, participants alter and edit the sound and appearance of the projected video clips. Like Simulsuck, Wobble Tumble Slide is a performance, but a performance that requires the participation of the viewer. The audience member is simultaneously the viewer and performer.

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Simulsuck, found video clips, discarded vacuum cleaners, custom electronics and software, dimensions variable, 2009, (3 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgoww_yDyl4

Wobble Tumble, Slide, found video clips, discarded plastic, custom electronics and software, dimensions variable, 2010, (2 minutes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11q7pqIOXvY

Swimming in Place, discarded plastic, stop-motion animation loop. (1 minute): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQvwXRcb_KM

Contributor's Biography:

After calling the Detroit, Michigan area home for a number of years, Mike Richison relocated to New Jersey in 2007. He is currently a professor at Monmouth University where he teaches Motion Graphics, History of Graphic Design and Typography. He is a multimedia artist who utilizes a variety of media and approaches including graphic design, video, sculpture, printmaking, drawing and installation. He has exhibited and performed at several venues in the New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit areas. To view more of his work, please visit www.mikerichison.com.

Material Histories: Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, 16th Street [1/4 square mile] Phoenix, Arizona + Brush Creek Road [2 miles] Snowmass Village, Colorado

This project takes as assumption that every space and every thing is connected on all sides to the whole rest of the world.

These pictures record events of exploring public space on foot. Each walk becomes a collection of objects gathered from a particular explored place. As a walker-gatherer, I am childlike, measuring value in curiosity and storing it in a shoebox under the bed. I am like a bowerbird, seduced by a brightly colored speck and the glint in the corner of an eye. I am also street sweeper, curator, naturalist, and anthropologist of my own culture and time on these walks.

Each image is a subjective and arbitrary sample of an accumulated surface up to the collecting event. Multiple histories are invoked— the gathering walk, the implied stories of how each thing came to be there, and the history of the representation and study of land. I arrange the objects as if a strong wind blew through a natural history museum display case. Things float in the void like the wild energies they rode in on—having fallen out of private ownership, public systems of recovery, or nutrient cycles, landing first on public land and then into my hands. Artifacts and engineered materials intertwine and mingle with natural resources. Stripped of their context for careful observation, the objects refer back to the places and inhabitants from which they came, becoming social and environmental mirrors.

Top photograph:

Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, 16th Street [1/4 square mile]

Phoenix, Arizona

44" x 156"

Archival inkjet print on bamboo paper


Bottom photograph:

Brush Creek Road [2 miles]

Snowmass Village, CO

24" x 35"

Archival inkjet print on bamboo paper


Contributor's Biography:

Julie Anand is Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator for Photography at Arizona State University. These works from her ongoing Material Histories investigations were part of the Defining Sustainability suite of exhibitions at the ASU Art Museum Fall 2009. She received her Master's of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico. An interdisciplinary thinker and desert lover, she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as an undergraduate before becoming smitten with photography. Having replaced the burden of proof with the celebration of subjectivity, her mixed-media and photographic artworks draw on the ecological principle of interdependency. Her work questions conventional boundaries including those between science and art, between artistic disciplines, and between the body and its environment. Her work often uses history-rich materials like wood, soil, and water to speak to the unity of things through the cycles of matter.