Chris Copeland                        Artwork                            

Metabolic Raceway (2019)

In collaboration with Josh Archer

    “What grows inside of a car"? is the guiding question behind Metabolic Raceway. Asking this led us to discover a community of scientists studying organisms that can live on the subtance humans regard as most toxic. More specifically, we learned about the communities of bacteria that have evolved the ability to break down different substances like gasoline and even motor oil.

    These organisms have a primordial connection to hydrocarbons which allows to inhabit the most unlikely of spaces, from brownfields to oil spills. During this project, we went looking for them on the peripheries of human culture, and found them living near raceways, highways, and car dealerships. In Metabolic Raceway we emphasize the role that fossil fuel machines have in biological change within our environments. However, rather than being the cause for pollution, our machines are designed to foster the growth of microorganisms.

    Metabolic Raceway includes three DIY sculptural bioreactors made of car parts that will be growing bacteria in order to break down motor oil over the course of several weeks. Kinetic elements of these bioreactors include, windshield wipers, crankshafts and steering wheels which perform the function of sustaining the bacterial metabolic activity. In these bioreactors are a selected polycultures of species of bacteria that have been sourced from post industrial soil samples around the Buffalo NY metropolitan area. The combined experience of these sculptural bioreactors will be a very slow exciting race not between cars, but between organisms.

    For more information on this subject see our other related project. It’s a book titled, The True Story of How the Race to Solve OIl Pollution Resulted in the First Bacterial Patent; Begginning the Modern Era of Biopiracy and Furthering Corporate Control Over Life


  Along with these sculptural bioreactors there will be a short video illustrating the history and science involved in the processes present in the sculptures and at large in Bioremediation and genetic engineering. See stills below (video upload coming soon!)

Below is is a map of Buffalo, New York. Showing the sites where we collected soil samples and the genus of bacteria found at that site. The red star marks the site of of Big Orbit Gallery where Metabolic Raceway was shown in Buffalo.

Metabolic Raceway is an investigation into the unique history of the first patented bacteria Pseudomonas Putida NRRL-B5473, and its importance to the fields of bioremediation and early genetic engineering. P. Putida was engineered by Ananda Chakrabarty at General Electric in the 1970’s to break down hydrocarbons more thoroughly in the case of an oil spill. After having his patent initially rejected, General Electric successfully appealed this decision before the Supreme Court, setting a new precedent for the ownership and control of life. P. Putida was engineered for power and speed, similar to the way automobiles are engineered and marketed to consumers.

  This project is supported by the Coalesce Center for Biological Art.

Selected still collages from Metabolic Raceway the film:
Video still from Metabolic Raceway stop motion film illustrating

horizontal gene transfer