Digestive machine

Landscape Within, 2016

Keywords: heavy metal contamination, external gut, phytoremediation, contaminated mind, lower IQ levels, exhibition, performance

Landscape Within updates the popular saying “you are what you eat” to propose that “you are also where your food is grown, the landscape where you live and what your parents and grandparents were exposed to in their lifetime.”

The research reveals how our bodies and minds change with heavy metal contamination from industrial activity and waste. The work presents new body-parts and machine systems that use plants, engineered bacteria, food, worms and frogs to help us thrive in these future toxic landscapes.

The work is supported by a Wellcome Arts Award and made in collaboration with Dr Louise Horsfall, and the Horsfall Lab at the University of Edinburgh and Dr Susan Hodgson, researcher and lecturer in Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure Assessment at Imperial College London.

Here is Dr Susan Hodgson explaining the impact of heavy metal exposure on the body:

Dr. Susan Hodgson, Environmental epidemiologist on health effect of contaminating metals

Hands-on in the lab
Through a collaboration with Dr Louise Horsfall from the University of Edinburgh, we worked with new synthetic biology tools to create engineered bacteria that can extract valuable nano-metals from our food. These engineered bacteria became central to an external digestive machine.


Feast for the senses and mind
Below is the Rice Sausage. We created this as the first dish using the rice processed by the External Digestive Machine. The addition of the engineered bacteria that glow in the presence of heavy metal, create possibilities for the food to communicate to us whether it is safe to consume. As a result, new sensations around eating emerge, such as ‘dining in the dark’.

Memories of the lost
Landscape Within features other devices including the Frogarium and the Worm Charming Robots. These shift our relationship with organisms to adapt to future contaminated landscapes and protect our minds from heavy metal exposure.

Worm Charming


Embedded beyond borders
The project discovers that our digestive system invites the landscape into the body. According to food production methods, we biological change with global dietary systems beyond our lifetimes and geographical borders. However distant, behaviours in waste and industrial production eventually find their way back to us. By updating the gut-flora, we might adapt to contaminated landscapes; compromises may ask us to update current consumption practice, but in return we may find new possibilities, such as mining the body for valuable materials.




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Take home

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Landscape Within

£ 10.00

After You
After You





See also

Contamination and future



Landscape Within by Burton Nitta (Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta)

In collaboration with:
University of Edinburgh, Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology, : Dr. Louise Horsfall, Dr. Michael Capeness, Dr. Virginia Echavarri-Bravo, Dr. Matthew Edmundson, The Horsfall Lab
. Dr. Susan Hodgson, Environmental Epidemiology and Exposure Assessment, School of Public Health, Imperial College London. Front404, Photography of "Digestive machine" .

Supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award


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