Algologies

Algologies” explores the entangled relationships between seaweed, women and science. The project draws links between Victorian seaweed collectors, the use of seaweed-based agar jelly in contemporary biology, and seaweed growth as a barometer of climate change and the environment as well as a strategy for carbon capture.  The work fuses botanical printing techniques, DIY microbiology/biohacking to make agar from local seaweed, textile work, embroidery, installation and video interviews with experts. Everything can be found on the project blog.

Seaweed Microscopy

The project was developed through The Living Coast Residency 2021 awarded to Anna Dumitriu by Fabrica Gallery in Brighton (UK). The residency ran in parallel to the exhibition, “The Forked Forest Path” by Olafur Eliasson which was exhibited at Fabrica in partnership with Brighton Festival. The residency ran from 17th May to 17th June 2021.

Seaweed collection

In Victorian Britain seaweed collecting was considered a respectable interest for women interested in scientific enquiry and even Queen Victoria participated. Anna Atkins was a pioneer in both botany and early photographic techniques using cyanotypes, and is considered the first person to have ever published a book of photographs, entitled “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” in October 1843.

Botanical Print from local seaweed

In Brighton, Mary Merrifield made important contributions to colour and pigment research, history of fashion and importantly in the field of algology, the study of algae – in the form of seaweed, notably in her 1864 book “A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton and its Vicinity”.

Seaweed botanical print on silk on homemade agar

In 1882 Fannie Hesse was working as a technician with her husband Walter Hesse in the laboratory of the microbiology pioneer Robert Koch who was trying to grow bacteria on solid rather than liquid media, so he could isolate specific species. The gelatine he was trying to use melted at the temperatures needed to grow the kinds of bacteria that cause disease in humans, and she suggested that he try agar, a Chinese dessert made from red seaweeds she had been using to make fruit jellies, it can be heated to 60oC without melting. It is now used in practically every microbiology lab in the world. During the Second World War attempts were made to produce agar jelly from British seaweeds which Dumitriu attempted.

Seaweed from the Undercliff

Nowadays, seaweed farming actually helps counter climate-change, while deforestation decimates rainforests and other crucial carbon sinks. Fast-growing oceanic jungles of kelp and other macroalgae are highly efficient at storing carbon.

Seaweed in a rock pool at the Undercliff

Nowadays, seaweed farming actually helps counter climate-change, while deforestation decimates rainforests and other crucial carbon sinks. Fast-growing oceanic jungles of kelp and other macro-algae are highly efficient at storing carbon. Since the recent passing of a new bylaw preventing inshore trawling the kelp forests in the Living Coast Region are finally beginning a process of regeneration.

Botanical Print from local seaweed

Elements of the project were originally conceived through participation in a series of online conversations facilitated during the COVID-19 lockdown by Brighton Artists Network as part of their urBAN project.

List of Blog Posts

The study of seaweed or the study of pain?

The Red Weed

635+ Species and Counting

Directions for Collecting and Preserving Algae by Mary Philadelphia Merrifield (Brighton 1864) (with suggestions from Anna Dumitriu 2021)

The Modern Science of Phycology

Mary Philadephia Merrifield – A Brighton Algologist

From Victorian Seaweed Collectors to Women in Science Today

Seaweed and Agar in Microbiology

Seaweed Under the Microscope

A Short Account of the Use of Certain British Seaweeds in the Preparation of Agar

The Hunt for British Agar in WW2

Sea Monsters in Brighton

A Small Experiment in the Use of Certain British Seaweeds in the Preparation of Agar

Botanical Printing Experiments in the footsteps of Anna Atkins

The Living Seas of Sussex

What next?