First Forms (Installation View)
Experimenta Life Forms, Plimsoll Gallery, UTAS (Hobart, TAS) 2021
Photo by Remi Chauvin

This is another of my text works and I think the text I created for the work tells you all you need to know about this project. There is a gallery mock up of the six screen work as a video below the text.


Life is electric: the passing of electrons from a larger molecule to another, smaller one. Breathe in oxygen, out comes carbon dioxide and water. And so, it goes around.

Where did animate life begin? We still chase the long tale.

Darwin wrote to a friend, "But if (and oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity etcetera”

And it seems it was something just like that, as far as science can tell at this distance.

Long before that, the earth formed gravitationally, spinning up out of the dust and gas of the big bang to settle in its orbit around the sun 4 and a half billion years ago. There was no water on it. Or perhaps there was, we’re currently not sure. But in those salty ponds, as Darwin’s ‘if’ surmised, somewhere around 4 billion years ago the great engine of life began to turn. The means of electricity that Darwin spoke of, that vital spark, was ready and waiting, for water is the greatest source of electrons on earth.

So, in that Archean ocean, on a scorching earth, wrapped in carbon dioxide, something began to stir and a small electrical circuit emerged. Microbia.

What science calls cyanobacteria took carbon dioxide, the water of the primordial oceans and, using the sun’s energy, the source of all energy on the earth’s surface, they turned it into oxygen and sugar. All the sugar that wasn’t used across those billions of years is locked up in the earth, as shale oil.

That magical process, born in cyanobacteria we call photosynthesis. It evolved once, just once, in cyanobacteria, we do not know where from, we do not know what came before it. This little nanomachine spread from there to every photosynthetic plant and microbe we know.

The oldest evidence we have for it is found in the Pilbara. It is in the form of stromatolites, 3.7 billion years old. I have held one in my hand. It looks like an iron rich stone. From this, all things come.

These are stromatolites.

The little creatures that make them, layer by micromillimetre layer, are those same microbes. They filter sand and calcium carbonate from the sea water and glue it together, slowly, slowly at a rate of about 1mm per year, reaching for the sun. Stromatolites, which look like stones, begin as an algal matt. Microbes weave this algal matt, this slime, slowly into soft lumpy rocks…, which look like they are eroding but are really growing.