2016 | Switzerland | Documentary

Twenty-One Percent

  • 17 mins
  • Director | Ursula Biemann, Mo Diener
  • Writer | Ursula Biemann

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In this small formation history of atmospheric chemistry, flying and thinking beings emerge as the result of high levels of oxygen in the air which is owed to earth’s forest and plant cover. In the midst of the oxygenic forest, a science-fictional performer manipulates a multitude of ingredients–minerals, forest fruits, liquids and substances–some of which are recognized as potential human foods, others not. Ranging in scale from the cosmos to the kitchen, the video undertakes an empirical inquiry into the capacity of chemical elements.

Sporting a bodytech suite for feeding and monitoring the metabolic processes of her body, the performer lays out the concept of cosmic cooking right there, in the woods near Zurich. Rather than the production of edibles, it aims at the transformation of matter into different states of being by extracting, distilling, filtering, cooking, jellying, reducing, decomposing, pulverizing, macerating. The video foregrounds the materialities and processes by which human and other organic bodies are kept alive, intensifying the relations to the subtle, multiple, living world.

This happens in full awareness of the fact that it is the chemical composition of the universe that constitutes materiality on earth. Next to the petri dishes and pipettes, various diagrams on the lab table point to essential cosmic components: carbon monoxide, methane, interstellar formaldehyde, hydronium ions, nitrous oxide. They are the building blocks for genetic material. More importantly, it is the building up of oxygen in the atmosphere that finally drove the evolution of thinking minds: Human consciousness depends on 21% of oxygen. Tinkering with the chemical composition of the atmosphere is not only impacting the climate on Earth, it directly affects the capacity to think which enabled the conception of technologies that changed planetary chemistry.

atmosphere chemistry oxygen air plant earth element carbon methane experiment performance