Mariko HORI

Archiving the Unknown 

installation / hand crafted paper, frames, copper, a book and a freezer / 2024

For her work Archiving the Unknown, Mariko Hori combines an artistic and scientific approach. Partly based on the book Provincie Utrecht: Literaire reis langs het water ("Literary journey along the water", 2003), she collected water from various canals, channels and streams in and around the city of Utrecht and then used it to make paper in which microscopic elements from this water are preserved. If this paper is preserved at least 20 degrees Celsius below zero, future scientists should be able to read ecological information from it using so-called environmental DNA techniques: which life forms have lived in this water, when and for how long?

Text by Taco Hidde Bakker

© Sjoerd Knibbeler

© Sjoerd Knibbeler

© Sjoerd Knibbeler

Water connects things and leaves them.

This unique property of water has been put to practical use for human purposes, including traditional papermaking. For instance, in Japan, the clear water of the upper stream is commonly used for crafting traditional handmade paper. De Schoolmeester, the only paper mill in the world still operating on wind power, relies on ditch water for its process.
Throughout the process, water helps to blend paper pulp materials, such as plant and cotton pulp and binds them together. Once the process is complete, the water departs and moves on to a different state.

Imagine this: water from a stream or a ditch is not just water; it contains, among others, most of it invisible to the naked eye, micro-organisms, traces of aquatic life, metals or pollutants from agricultural runoff or deposits from rainwater. These invisible elements will also find their way into the paper.
Archiving the Unknown explores the possibility of creating handmade paper that can archive eDNA* or other forms of data from the areas where the water is sourced. The intention is to use local water sources—such as canals, rivers and rain puddles—as part of the paper-making process, potentially including various larger elements found floating in the water. 
Technologies like eDNA may advance much further in the coming years. When that time arrives, this work might serve as a means to access past information from the water sampled and preserved in the handmade paper. Like a time capsule, it could provide us with something very precise and/or imaginative. Perhaps in only a decade, it could tell us much more than anything currently imaginable.

In this project I am to discover an effective method for archiving things by combining a realistic (scientific) and imaginative (artistic) approach. The attempt to archive something without focusing on specific subjects, but using an open approach, could offer a broad and exciting spectrum of possibilities. From this hopeful perspective, this work may become valuable to next generations in various and unforeseen ways. Each copy of the crafted papers will be archived in a freezer set at a minimum of minus 20 degrees Celsius. Scientists expressing interest in examining papers, are welcome to do so.

There is still much we don't know about this world and emerging technologies, as the outcomes of long-term research are not yet available. How far will humans go in trying to understand everything? As long as there are no answers to everything, there are possibilities. While I am working on this project, its practical implications remains uncertain. Time will tell in which ways it will matter, or perhaps it won’t matter much at all.

*The environmental DNA method (abbreviation: eDNA method) is a relatively new approach used to monitor the distribution of species. Using this method it is possible to detect species without actually seeing or catching them. The method uses DNA-based identification, also called barcoding, to detect species from extracellular DNA, or cell debris, that species leave behind in the environment. Research has shown that in water eDNA breaks down within a few days to a month. Therefore the detection of a species’ DNA in the water confirms its recent presence. In other environments, such as soils and sediments, the persistence of eDNA can be much longer, under specific conditions up to hundreds thousands of years. Therefore, it is more difficult in those environments to confirm current presence of a species based on eDNA.

Hydromedia: Seeing with Water
17.02- 03.03. 2024
HKU | AG - Ruimte voor nieuwe kunst en media

The exhibition Hydromedia: Seeing with Water features new work by four artists, created as part of an international research project in which HKU participates. Mariko Hori (JP/NL), Alexandra Crouwers (NL/BE), Meng-Chan Yu (TW/DE) and Sanne Vaassen (NL) conducted research in the city and province of Utrecht in October 2023, in collaboration with curators Taco Hidde Bakker and Sjoerd Knibbeler (both working as lecturers at HKU Media), which included exchanges with ecologists, engineers and scientists who deal with water issues in very different fields.

Using water as a source of inspiration and as a medium, Hydromedia develops new artistic representations through which our relationship to the elements and the biosphere can be experienced from within. Sharing research processes and methods through accessible publications, exhibitions and workshops, allows the public to understand how the artist's imagination can contribute to the profound ecological issues of our time.

This edition of Hydromedia: Seeing with Water is the second local Hydromedia exhibition, following the presentation of the results in Antwerp (September 2023) and before the presentation of the results in Karlsruhe (July 2024). A major Hydromedia exhibition will open in November 2024 at the Technik Museum in Dresden, collecting the work of all twelve artist- residents.

The Hydromedia project is co-funded by the European Union's Creative Europe program.

All content © Mariko Hori 2024