Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza has unleashed a legion of solar-powered “Nomad Plants” that mosey along riverbanks in search of resources to sustain themselves. Each one utilizes a microbial fuel cell to convert contaminants in polluted rivers into energy, and then they use that energy in turn to clean more water. What does it mean?, you may be asking. In his artist statement, Esparza calls Nomad Plants a “metaphor for the alienated human condition and the impact that our activity has on nature.”
While Esparza’s Nomad Plants certainly inspire wonder, he does not simply celebrate technology. He reflects on its ambiguous role in our lives; at once “a tool of power” and an enabler of change. I’m tempted to see the bot as a metaphor for humans: both nature and anti-nature, blissfully feeding on contaminated water, and moving out into landscapes like an invasive species — although, if that were really the metaphor, the bot would have to reproduce like bunnies.
In any case, it’s a thought-provoking piece of work that may, incidentally, reduce contamination in the rivers it visits.