The Drowned World, 2018

Michael WangThe Drowned World (2018), environmental installation

The Drowned World is a work organised as two elements connected to the organic origins and current biological consequences of the phenomenon of industrialisation. A small decorative pool in the Botanical Garden shines with a greenish-blue light. A living monochrome, the pool’s colour is due to cyanobacteria, ancient organisms that were among the first to carry out photosynthesis using chlorophyll. Over two million years ago, their appearance launched the biological process through which light and air can transform into organic material. This process released substantial quantities of oxygen into the Earth’s atmosphere for the first time. As it was toxic for almost every form of life that had developed to that point, atmospheric oxygen caused the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet. A forest, composed of plants closely related to those that existed in the Carboniferous Period, grows among the industrial ruins of an old gasometer. These plants once formed the enormous swamps that stretched across the entire planet. Over the centuries, their buried remains gave shape to the coal used in that very gasometer. When heated and burned, this coal re-releases the air that was captured more than 300 million years ago, thus restoring a primordial atmosphere.