Journey was a public installation that problematized "flush-away" culture. The installation wanted to denaturalize Waste. The fish lived in the bowl of a repurposed toilet. Its waste traveled to the tank that supplied nutrients to the plants. Beneficial bacteria broke down the fish waste into a form edible by plants. The plants in turn cleaned the water that cycled back to the fish. There is this idea that when your pet fish dies, you throw it in the toilet, and flush it to make it just go away but the reality is waste always goes somewhere. It doesn't just disappear.
As automated as the toiletponics system might have seemed at first, an investigation of the shipping container revealed evidence of a human caretaker. A desk with marble for raising water alkalinity and fish food could be inspected by the visitors. A TV played videos of alchemical water filtration experiments. After a month the fish got noticeably too big for its home and one of the visitors became concerned with the tight quarters. He eventually agreed to adopt the fish. I passed the fish off in a final closing ritual where the Tilapia completed its transformation from an anonymous lab rat to a livestock and finally to a pet named Beefadou who got on TV.
This installation opened in downtown Syracuse for TONY 2012 Biennial, organized by the Everson Museum in collaboration with the City of Syracuse.
The installation was staffed and open during most days. At night, visitors could observe the system from a window built into the shipping container.
Toiletponics uses the principles of aquaponics to allow fish and vegetables to thrive. The classic pink American Standard toilet hosted a Tilapia, basil, two types of lettuce, and mint.
The fish that inhabited the installation is named Beefadou. He was donated to me from a science experiment by Michael Amadori that was just wrapping up and the fish were all being "retired".
The rest of the shipping container held evidence of a journey from a parallel universe. Artifacts activated alternative migration narratives in popular culture. I worked with Timothy Westbrook to create ruby slippers (such as the ones from The Wizard of Oz film) which symbolized migrant labor. The slippers were created from Coca Cola cans to look like they are covered in fish scales (a reference to The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson). The slippers inspired Tim to independently create a whole series of shoes featured on the Smithsonian blog.
Additional by Andrew Frost & Caitlin Foley.