Phosgene (or The battle of Amba Aradam)

Phosgene (or The battle of Amba Aradam), porous concrete, mud, peat moss, polyurethane foam, organic matter, bacteria, chicken wire, electronic circuits, leds, plastic pipes, 2017

Together with Yperite and Arsine, this work is the third one of a series dedicated to the Ethiopian War (1935-1936) and the use of chemical warfare agents made by the Italian army against Ethiopian population (arsine, yperite, phosgene), and based on some photographs shot by my uncle during that war.

This work takes departure from one of those images – depicting a group of soldiers inside a trench into the ground, their helmets seem to multiply forming a big bubble due to the bad exposure of the photograph – full of mud and soil, and it is dedicated to phosgene, a chemical chlorine compound, that is both a warfare agent and an important industrial reagent to produce, among others, polyurethane foams, whose name means “born from light”.

Solid foams and porous materials (mud, porous concrete, polyurethane) thus creates a bacteria based light machine, making use of the power of geobacter, a particular kind of anaerobic bacteria, found in mud and aquatic sediment, able to bioremediate soils from organic matter and pollutants, and to generate electricity during the process; the amount of energy produced by this kind of bacteria in any mud cell, passed by electrodes to an electronic circuit, drives the rhythm of the blinking lights.

The work has been conceived for the project Skūmaz – a metastable state, developed together with Rachel Morellet, Eva Sauer and Tatiana Villani, with a critical text by Eleonora Farina.


Photo by Andrea Abati, Rachel Morellet