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Let’s ACT – James Bridle

4 min read
10 Feb 2022

For a couple of years, ACT Award winner James Bridle has been working with researchers in Greece who are growing and harvesting hyperaccumulating plants. These naturally occurring shrubs and flowers can grow in very metal-rich soils that normally are quite inhospitable to most forms of life. Since hyperaccumulators can draw up the metals - nickel, in this case - and store it in their stems and leaves, they are able to survive. Moreover, they remediate the soil and make the metal available for harvesting.

Thanks to these abilities, hyperaccumulators could be a non-damaging alternative for mining through industrial processes. For his work ‘SERVER FARM (TEST PLOT 001)’, James has been looking at ways in which his research could be supported and promulgated, through site selection, farming techniques, and seed banking. Moreover, he investigated how the mined metal products can be used and, at a larger scale, how we can start seeing hyperaccumulators as knowledgeable and helpful colleagues and how we can change our relationship to them, to plants in general, and to the whole Earth system.
James’ work is part of the larger project ‘SERVER FARM’, which explores ways to develop technology better aligned with the needs and desires of the planet itself - ecologically, socially, and politically. With winning the ACT Award, James was able to develop his test plot as key building block in the establishment of the future farm. In particular, he was able to bring together biologists, chemists, material scientists and others from various universities and institutions in the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. Although the project has required much time and effort, James explains they got huge rewards in turn: “The team has been incredibly patient and supportive throughout, with a clearly stated understanding that collaborations between artists, scientists and others are often harder to manage and see through than solo studio works, and an ongoing commitment to see the work through to its completion. I'm very grateful for their support and would encourage anyone who needs that kind of support and encouragement to apply for the ACT Award themselves.”
Alyssum murale
Although he had managed to set up a successful collaboration, it proved difficult to work towards a final work in such a short period of time. According to James, one of the biggest challenges was working with plants in general: “Working with plants - and other more-than-human entities - is that they don't care much for human timetables and deadlines. Establishing a growing, productive plot of hyperaccumulators takes 3-5 years, which is out of the scope of most arts programming. Luckily, I was able to work with existing growers, namely Maria Konstantinou and her team from the International Hellenic University in Thessaloniki, as well as the Europe-wide Life Agromine project, and its experimental team, Econick. But the process of 'agromining' is still in its early days, and with the associated pressures of the pandemic, it hasn't yet been possible to obtain actual agromined metal for the envisioned final work. But we'll keep working on it until we get there.”
At STRP Festival 2022, James will present SERVER FARM (TEST PLOT 001): an experimental field of the future farm and a crucial step towards the establishment of SERVER FARM. With the festival in sight, he is looking forward to presenting his own work in the line of the works from other artists around this year’s theme: “I've been attending the festival since 2011, so it's always a pleasure to see what themes and ideas come to the fore each year.”
In our series Let’s ACT, we introduce our ACT (Award for Creative Technology) 2022 winners and follow them in the stages to their final work at STRP Festival 2022.