I acknowledge composting worms as important partners and proactive agents of domestic waste removal. I performed a three-hour handshake on live broadcast webcam and manipulated the footage into a five-minute video piece. Worms are difficult to see, as it is in their nature to hide away from visible light. This handshake was staged inside a dark box illuminated by an infra-red light which was invisible to my eye and to the light detectors of the worms, but sensed by the camera documenting the event. This extrasensory, technological agent allows us to see beyond our biological senses and it provides a view into the interconnected system that we participate in. These worms are the continuation of a colony of worms that have been with me for twenty years. We have shared many meals. They have transformed my waste products into fertilizer that I have fed to my plants. Once in awhile, when I bite into the juiciest strawberry, I remember to thank the worms for their part.

Catalog text

How can our human connection to, and reliance upon, the non-human be sensed?

I “know” that the collection of cells that comprises my body depends on inputs and outputs to the world outside my body, but that relationship is often invisible and unfelt. If I am thirsty I might sense the rain or a river in an more potent way, but, it is more likely that I will feel immediately interconnected with the money in my pocket and the corner store that enables the purchase of a bottle of water. The human-constructed interfaces to the non-human world are convenient, yet distancing. Packaging, stores, trashcans and toilets allow me to fantasize that I am an independent being, as long as I have the ability to purchase food, water, and services. But I am not independent from the ecosystem.

A handshake is a ritual of greeting, an acknowledgement of equality, a sealing of an agreement and a demonstration of respect. With this in mind, I created a situation where I could publicly shake hands with a group of composting worms. A worm bin with a live network webcam attached to the top was a way to broadcast the event. The red wiggler worms were collected from another worm bin in my home. I held them in my hand and felt the gentle movement of their fleshy, moist bodies fed by waste generated from my own household –newspaper, wilted lettuce, apple cores, coffee grounds, and leftover toast. These worms are the continuation of a colony of worms that have been with me for twenty years. We have shared many meals. They have transformed my waste products into fertilizer that I have fed to my houseplants, tomato plants, basil and strawberry plants. Once in awhile, when I bite into the juiciest strawberry, I remember to thank the worms for their part.

Of course the worms are just one small part of the cycle that transforms waste material into soil nutrients and back to human-ingestible food. There are also invisible forces, such as microbes, photosynthesis that I have not figured out how to shake hands with yet. Even the worms are difficult to apprehend. It is in their nature to hide away from visible light, which can harm them. To keep them safe, I staged the handshake inside a dark box. An infra-red light placed inside was invisible to my eye and to the light detectors of the worms, but sensed by the camera documenting the event. This extrasensory, technological agent allows us to see beyond our biological senses and it provides a view into the interconnected system that we participate in. The networked camera revealed the event as it unfolded in a three-hour timespan, but the span of human attention does not easily match this scale. I chose to time-lapse and color-enhance the documentation as a way to shift it towards human perception. I endeavor to employ technology in this way; as a means of highlighting the interdependent systems that include all of us – worms, people, dirt, cameras and ecosystems.

  • HandShake 2015
  • Medium Single channel video with audio
  • Dimensions 1280 x 720 • 5 minutes, 10 seconds
  • Exhibited 849 Gallery, Kentucky School of Art, Louisville, KY • Cultivamos Cultura, Sao Luis, Portuga • Biblioteca Municipal de Odemira, Portugal • ACMSiggraph Digital Arts Community, Anaheim, CA. July 2016