Visual of Nature Loves Technology
Visual Essay

Nature Loves Technology

Interview with curators William Myers and Emma van der Leest

What can happen when nature and technology fall in love? Discover this relationship with Nature Loves Technology our exhibition at Floriade 2022. This bond blossoms under the theme Growing Green Cities shedding light on the development of sustainable urban landscapes. Over 20 projects explore the theme, from fashion, food, energy, and biodiversity. We spoke with curators William Myers and Emma van der Leest to hear how this unlikely love story came to life.

Why does nature love technology?

Emma: In the past years, nature has evolved in a lot of daily products we use, from cosmetics to food and non-food. We become more and more aware of ingredients that look or feel "natural". But with nowadays technology we are able to increase the production of natural components like vanillin or use fermentation techniques to create animal-free products. An example where technology brings out the best of mother nature.

William: Nature and technology can be understood as having a strained, but lasting relationship that is evolving in phases. Kind of like a partnership or marriage, the two have struggled for control, and technology has dominated for quite some years since the industrial revolution. Nature seemed to be a contained or finite realm for many years; but now we know better, that nature is not only a powerful actor but is changing along with people and with the technology they create. One way to see it is that nature loves technology because the two have been fused together in our era. Both must express a kind of love to one another in order to survive and develop together. 

What material technologies might we see within the expo?

William: The audience will see inventive uses of seaweed, mushrooms, and their root systems, biofabrication using 3D printers, and creative uses of what are thought of as “waste” material, like discarded tomato stems and mangos. We use discarded material in the presentation of the works in the show, tables and plinths consist of things like shells, hay, and cut flower stems. In addition, there is a whole series of bio-based samples in the exhibition that are mounted on the walls. In sum, there is quite a lot of unexpected and promising material in the exhibitions that we hope will inspire designers, makers, and students of all kinds.

Emma: What is really special is that all materials are carefully curated and selected, not only the pieces in the show but every component from hanging brackets to the floor. With our exhibition builder we chose materials from the Netherlands or with a very small footprint. The way they are designed is that they can be disassembled after the show and end up back in the cycle. What we often see in exhibitions is that a lot of building materials (from plinths to banners) end up as waste. This is something I am very proud of and hope it will be an inspiration and example for other curators, galleries, and museums. 

 You will see alternatives like lab-grown proteins, seaweeds and imaginative speculations of food that are radically different from today. 

Tell us about the future of our food and the agricultural practises that come with it

Emma: The Netherlands is the second biggest exporter in the world (next to Mexico) of tomatoes. Nowadays we are able to predict or engineer nutritional components in seeds. One of our projects is telling the story about tomato seeds: what if one piece could hold all genetic information of all tomato varieties? Another project tells the story about making real cheese from grass, without bothering the cow. I am curious about what our food rituals will look like in fifty years’ time and how our food will be served on the table. 

William: The future of food is a critical topic for the planet and will affect just about every nation’s landscape in the coming decades. As we know, the current expanding use of land for livestock and crops is not able to be sustained. In the exhibition you will see alternatives like lab-grown proteins, seaweeds, as well as imaginative speculations, visions of food and eating rituals that are radically different from today. 

We forget about care. Nature could take care of us if we take care of nature.

What alternative energy sources will we see?

Emma: We consider energy as something we always have, but with the current energy crisis we are facing, we forget out care. Nature could take care of us if we take care of nature. Living Light is a great example of a light that illuminates after a loving touch.

William: The audience will learn about how renewable energy can be used to power the Netherlands in a vision of the year 2120 that has been intensely researched and projected. In addition, there are examples of solar power collection integrated into a food-growing installation, and utilizing sunshine to power autonomous robots that clean pollution out of water. 

Our lives are increasingly digital, how is this explored in the expo?

William: Our digital reality and future are explored in a few projects on display. Of note is a virtual reality installation that depicts four different possible futures in which technology and biology are entwined or kept apart in different ways. Also, the exhibition presents the concept of the ECO Coin, a digital currency that can enable anyone around the world to take climate action and support efforts to preserve the environment.

Just as a coral reef allows many species to flourish in the sea, the future city can be configured to support and enhance biodiversity and resilience. 

Can you talk about the scale of some of the projects?

Emma: Some projects show that everyday sources, like fruit, vegetables and plants are inevitable in a new future, where they form the basis of new textiles, energy, and building materials. Our visitors experience that a lot of them are growing in their backyard or at the acre in the neighborhood, potentially changing world markets if we shift towards more plant-based products. 

William: The works in the exhibition cross all these scales, from the personal, to the national, to the international. We felt this was an important feature in order to engage with our audience’s variety of interests and to stimulate thinking of different kinds. You will see some projects and ask yourself “would I want this in my life, in my home?” and you will see others and wonder “can this idea change policy on a global scale?” and still others will make you ponder “is this really possible?”

What can biodesign mean for the future of our cities? 

William: Biodesign can be integral to the future of our cities, as it is an approach that can enhance and encourage many forms of life to flourish. Biodesigning means working to use biological processes and materials, which tend to be economic, clean, and safe, to replace the synthetic or fossil-fuel based types. Just as a coral reef allows many species to flourish in the sea, the future city can be configured to support and enhance biodiversity and resilience. 

After the expo, the Floriade site will be redeveloped into Hortus: a green, healthy urban district for the future.

What is the role of the exhibition within the larger context of the Floriade expo?

Emma: The Natural Pavilion is an exhibition in itself that connects to the main themes of the Floriade. The materials are locally sourced, from the beams to the floor. The works in the show complement this local and innovative story, immersing the visitors in what our future environment could look like. Some of our exhibitors depend on farmers for natural fibers, others are collaborating with scientific institutes to validate and expand early prototypes. We tell the story through multiple lenses. And even for our youngest visitors, Next Nature developed an "educational activity book" which will be available in Dutch for families visiting the exhibition.

How has the landscape of Almere influenced the expo?

Emma: According to archaeologists, Almere is one of the oldest inhabited areas of our country. And habitat traces have even been found dating from about 6700 BC. In prehistoric times, a large part of the present territory of Almere belonged to the higher hinterland and formed part of a vast sand area that stretched to the Veluwe and Eem area. When dikes burst due to storms, the Zuiderzee Act was passed, and it was decided to reclaim the Zuiderzee. Although Almere is a relatively new city (the first houses were established around 1975) it has a resilient history, and we face its future during Floriade. After the expo, the Floriade site will be redeveloped into Hortus: a green, healthy urban district for the future.

William Myers is an Amsterdam-based curator, writer, and teacher. Emma van der Leest is a biodesigner and founder of BlueCity Lab in Rotterdam. Together they curated our Nature Loves Technology expo at Floriade 2022. Open April 14th!

Image Credits

Fur_tilize by Dasha Tsapenko

Seaweed Cycle by Eric Klarenbeek & Maartje Dros

Hanging Lamp by Peter Oei

The Steal Cow by Those Vegan Cowbots

Power Plant by Marjan van Aubel

Living Light by Ermi van Oers

Avocets above Marker Wadden by Vincent Tollenaar

Fruit Leather by Fruit Leather Rottterdam

Render by Studio Harm Rensink