Photosynthesising Flowerpots

© Photo credits TAKAHASHI Kenji - Photo courtesy of Tokyo Arts and Space

Photosynthesising Flowerpots


Photosynthesising flowerpots is an outcome of Tokyo Arts and Space Creators-in-Residence Programme we
were part of for 3 months from begin January to end of march 2023.

Tokyo Arts and Space (TOKAS) is an art centre run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and
Culture and the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art's Tokyo Arts and Space Department. The
Center runs a residency programme for creators of diverse genres with creators from Japan and abroad
staying at the centre for about three months to conduct research and produce work and with the aim of
"promoting creative international cultural exchange".

As artist duo we were selected to participate in the 2022 creators' residency programme. During our stay, we
conducted research on the ecology of the microbiome of urban green spaces - mainly street gardens in
residential areas - and explored the symbiotic relationship between microfauna and flora, be it a blade of
grass, a flower, a shrub.

Our residency culminated in an Open Studio Event at the TOKAS residency mid-March 2023, and will be
followed by an exhibition end this year. The exhibition will tour to other international cultural institutions.

Currently, we are working on an exhibition piece, experimental work that seeks to manufacture a flower pot
that photosynthesis as a concern and attempt to draw attention on the threats and imbalances among
diverse living ecosystems raised by man-made domestication of the environment.

What we seek to achieve with the photosynthesising flower pot is an uncanny and unseen symbiosis
between man-made craftsmanship, mediated through a 3D-printed terracotta pot, crafted in symbiosis with
cyanobacteria, the oldest inhabitants of Earth's ecosystems. This is what came out of our research on street
gardens in Tokyo and our study of the underlying microbial life at play in a reflexion of plant-life in the urban
living environments as a critical concern within the climate and environmental debate.

The work strives resilience among diverse ecosystems inhabiting an urban area, threatened and unbalanced
by human-induced domestication of nature. Could future urban planning, living environment, grown and be
cultivated like plants, like flowers, that is to be adaptive as plants to climate change are and evolve with


As mentioned in the outline, the aim is to achieve an unprecedented symbiosis between a man-made driven
3D printed terracotta pot manufactured in symbiosis with cyanobacteria microorganisms.

So far our ideas to manufacture the photosynthesising flowerpot amounts to focus on the formation, of a
biofilm of cyanobacteria on the surface of the flower pot by examining, shape, form and texture; as well as
the materiality, the compounds, constituents as the mixture the flowerpot is made of. Both in terms of
porosity and granularity as an important factor to consider for biofilm formation is porosity and the ability of
the material to absorb and retain water.

Two paths are thus explored. One focuses on the material composition of a mixture and its ingredients and
compounds taking into account the 3D printing manufacturing process, from the mixture dexterity, to nozzle
design to parameters such as print speed, etc.

The materials being considered include terracotta, clay, soil, cement, in a mixture of sand, gelatinous hydro
gel and cyanobacteria.

This builds further on the findings on living materials by Wil Srubar, a materials scientist and structural
engineer at Boulder University of Colorado, describing how filamentous secretions of certain cyanobacteria
can act as gluing agents, binding sandstone with their limestone secretions thus forming sandstone
aggregates through biomineralization. Cyanobacteria are limestone-producing micro-organisms. When in
contact with natural elements such as sun, water and air, they convert nutrients into calcium carbonate
(limestone). The geological and ecological impact of this biomineralisation process is far-reaching: just think
of the stromatolites, known as the oldest fossils in the world, about 3.5 billion years old.

Finally, at stake here is the extent to which cyanobacteria will play their part in manufacturing the flowerpot,
through their need to photosynthesise to grow and colonise a surface. And how their metabolism secretes a
binding substrate that will fill porous structure and fortify the strength of the flowerpot with calcium secretions.

Another point of focus will be put on is the shape and form to achieve the required porosity of the flower pot.
We were wondering if parametric design to enhance a form-finding process could be of use to analyse
different geometrical patterns of nature and refine them by gradually changing the parameters in an iterative
rendering process to get the final porosity shape for water uptake and water retention and as such, to design
a flower pot, which shape, fabric and composition, forms a host for cyanobacteria to live, grow and colonise.