Misha's Blog

Our Ruby Slippers Take Flight

Posted in Journey Installation, Projects by Misha on January 14, 2013

Ruby Slippers by Misha Rabinovich and Tim Westbrook

For my public installation Journey, the entry point was Toiletponics. Once inside the container, visitors were greeted with a domestic scene of a traveler. There was a set of Ruby Slippers that Tim Westbrook made for me. Now Tim took the idea and ran with it, and created a whole series of shoes! Amazing work, Tim! And you even made the Smithsonian take notice. Since the Smithsonian has the original shoes from the movie, would they let me borrow them for the next installation? Although, I now like the slippers Tim made for me better!

Ruby Slippers by Misha Rabinovich and Tim Westbrook

When Tim and I had our first meeting about this project, it was Spring and we were eating waffles. We were sharing our fascination with the Wizard of Oz. For me, the film has always represented the immigrant story. I read Russian versions of the book as a kid. I was also influenced by Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the little mermaid. She gave up her language to be more like her new human lover. I was thrilled when I finally lay my hands on these slippers: they have that Judy Garland sparkle with a fresh fish scale feel!

In the installation, I displayed the shoes separately and akimbo. The vessel was jostled on the stormy winds and the shoes went flying. But the traveler left the container without taking the shoes. The visitor is here to stay. It was great working with Tim and I look forward to doing so again!

Ruby Slippers USA Chain Study

Ruby Slippers USA Chain Study, Summery 2012

Journey Closing Reception & Beefadou Retirement Ceremony

Posted in Journey Installation by Misha on October 22, 2012

Journey Installation Closing Reception & Beefadou Retirement Ceremony

When: This Tuesday October 23rd from 7:30pm to 8pm followed by a pub crawl.
Where: Shipping container at the Columbus Circle grove of trees (map link here).

You are invited to a lecture performance featuring a ceremony of transformation. Journey is a public art installation in downtown Syracuse. The centerpiece and entry point of the installation is Toiletponics. The chief nutrient source for the food-producing ecosystem is a tilapia fish who’s excrement is recirculated as fertilizer for the vegetables. The fish is named Beefadou and he is ready to retire. Please come to see a short lecture performance by the artist to celebrate the closing of the installation and witness Beefadou’s actual retirement live. A pub crawl through downtown will follow.

Come to commemorate broken and reinvented models of existence, transmutation of waste into value, and ecopoetry. Witness the remarkable story of an artist’s quest to aesthetically package the Nitrogen cycle and one fish’s transformation from lab rat, to livestock, and finally to a pet. The installation will continue to operate until October 27th using another experimental nutrient source.

Short TV News Report video on the project:

Scroll down for the Google Map of the location.

Journey: A Public Art Installation in Downtown Syracuse

Posted in Journey Installation by Misha on September 20, 2012

Please come and visit my installation in downtown Syracuse! It is in a memorial park across the street from the court house and cathedral. Here is the google maps location of where it is. The installation is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5pm until October 28th.

Toiletponics featured in the Journey installation photograph by Jay Muhlin

Toiletponics featured in the Journey installation photograph by Jay Muhlin

This multi-cultural ship beckons you to explore broken and reinvented models of existence. The work’s location in Columbus Circle invites a comparison of flows of goods & ideas vs. the flow of people. Who could have journeyed in this vessel and where did they come from? Could we reuse this vessel to escape back to a totally unknown place? What kind of opportunities will we find there?

We are dealing with a “flush away”culture. We flush our once cherished pet fish down the toilet and forget about it. But where does our waste end up? The entry-point and center-piece of the work is Toiletponics. The recirculating water-based food toilet farm collapses realms of life severed by ideology into a single alchemical system. The epic quest of the historical alchemist is re-imagined as the transmutation of waste into food. The nitrogen cycle is packaged and tuned to resonate with the circular story arc of classic East and West epics (ranging from the The Wizard of Oz to the Journey to the West). The beauty of infinite rediscovery confronts the futility of eternal return in an aesthetic knot joining the natural and cultural ecologies.

Visitors are not required to confront the death of Nature, nor embrace the birth of Ecology, but they are invited to walk through the door.

A note on the fish:
The tilapia featured here was donated from a science experiment where it was slated for destruction. Great care is being taken to ensure a positive experience for the fish.


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Many thanks to the people who made this possible:

  • Michael Amadori
  • John Hollis Allison
  • Lauren Boldon
  • Howard Druckman
  • Zach Dunn
  • Caitlin Foley
  • Michael Giannattasio
  • Neil Hueber
  • Hydroponic Shops of America
  • Aaron Moss
  • Jay Muhlin
  • Jamie O’Hern
  • Chris Prior
  • Tonja Torgerson
  • College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University
  • Timothy Westbrook

Toiletponics Grow Light

Posted in Journey Installation, Projects by Misha on September 10, 2012


My installation at the TONY 2012 is a ship for traveling to parallel universes. The entry point and centerpiece of this shipping container installation is the aquaponics toilet farming I call Toiletponics. I outfitted a pink 1950s American Standard toilet with all the requirements for sustaining life. In this alchemical self-sustained ecosystem, shit is transmuted into food.

I’ve been doing research on using urine as fertilizer. However, for the installation downtown the food toilet is running in aquaponics mode. A half pound tilapia fish (rescued from a science experiment) is living in the bowl.

It’s waste is pumped out of the bowl and into the tank where it mixes into the growing medium containing several strains of nitrifying bacteria which convert waste into nitrogen fertilizer. Edible plants grow in the medium and absorb the nutrients made available by said bacteria. As the plants thrive, the tilapia enjoyes naturally cleaned water trickling back into the toilet bowl. But the container doesn’t let in much natural light which the plants require. I created a special LED-based grow light out of a matching pink sink. The LEDs are water cooled, and the waste heat is captured to heat the water for the fish.

Fluorescent lights are marketed as a ‘green’ technology. But even though they are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs they contain mercury which is a poison. I like LEDs better. I used a combination of high powered red and red green blue (RGB) LEDs to achieve the right balance of light. Plants, it turns out, don’t like green light. They appear green to us because they are bouncing all of the sun’s green rays right back away from themselves. I used high frequency red light (it penetrates the plant’s bodies) and RGB LEDs with the blue light turned on to satisfy plants’ taste for the blues. I also dialed in some green to balance out the light for human enjoyment as well. These high powered LEDs produce a ton of heat and if the heat is not dissipated the LEDs grow dim and can even burn out.

Enter the heat sink! The matching pink sink is cast iron and serves as a great heat sink for the LEDs. But it becomes even better with water cooling and heat recycling!

I’m stopping it up and pumping the toiletponics water through it. The water cools the heat sink and in turn heats up. When it finally flows out back into the toilet bowl through the white hose it is warmer to please the tilapia (a species hailing from balmy Egypt).

I used some handy Instructables tutorials for my LED work. Here is a very basic tutorial describing how to drive an LED with a Voltage Regulator IC. Here is a comprehensive tutorial iterating over several driver circuit designs integrating capacitors for smoothing power spikes. I didn’t end up using capacitors as I didn’t notice any real spikes in my power supply (the city’s holiday light socket in the park pole).

This next one is what I found after deciding to do tunable RGB LED lights in our sauna project. It also describes an overload protection circuit for preventing what is called Thermal Runaway which I haven’t found happening with my system. I measured voltage and current after hours of operation and didn’t see it.

I’m looking forward to finishing the installation and opening it for the public.

The World’s First Aquaponics Toilet Overflows With Life

Posted in Journey Installation by Misha on December 8, 2011

I am working on a project inspired by a type of farming that involves a closed recirculating water system. Aquaponics farming can end up using only 2% of the water used for conventional fish farming. This project is illustrative of the nitrogen cycle and the cycle of consumption.

I am working on an installation that will include this toilet. The installation will premiere next fall at The Other New York 2012 biennial in Syracuse, NY.

I harvested the first crop of basil to make pesto escargot that turned out quite well. I brought them to a potluck dinner organized by Sam Van Aken in honor of Shimon Attie. Think Shimon thought the snails were alright!

Check out the video tour and meet the fish!