A group of Spanish artists and researchers have come together to explore history using a microorganism as a tool to trace back human activity.

An exhibition opens today at the Contemporary Art Museum of Castilla and León (MUSAC), in Spain, exploring how a microorganism can trace the story of a region going back thousand of years. The project, called Tierra de Diatomeas, is a collaboration between researchers and artists with the aim to spark a debate on the past, present and future use of land around the Spanish city of León.

The microorganisms at the center of the project are diatoms, a common type of phytoplankton that is routinely used to test water quality given their high sensitivity to chemical changes in the environment. “Thanks to the fact that diatom cells are covered by a silica wall, they are fossilizable, and through their study, it is possible to analyze agricultural cycles marked by the arrival of the Romans, the Industrial Revolution or livestock farming, for example,” explains artist Susana Cámara Leret on her website. In fact, fossils from diatoms have been traced back to as far as the early Jurassic.

diatoms spain thought collider

Susana Cámara is the co-founder of Thought Collider, an artist duo based in Amsterdam that explores the relationship between humans and nature through science. To learn more about the science behind these fascinating creatures, Susana Cámara and her collaborators, Inés Cámara and María Boto, worked on the project with Dr. Saúl Blanco Lanza at the University of León, who specializes in studying diatoms and has helped discover over 20 new species around the world during his career.

Dr. Blanco’s lab will identify and geographically locate samples brought by citizens living around the city of León as a starting point to bring together stories from the people living in those areas. The aim is to create a route map of migration events of plants, animals and people in the area and open the debate on what the future of the land should be like. The project and exhibition will run until September 10 at the MUSAC for those interested in learning more about these fascinating microorganisms.

thought collider diatoms bioart spain

Images via Saúl Blanco Lanza, Director of the Diatomology Lab from the University of León

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