Instruments of the Afterlife, 2015

Instruments are created to transform contamination into valuable materials, by employing plants and engineered bacteria. Instead of mining material from geological sources and using fossil fuels, that lead to environmental harm, could future generations use the contamination and pollution we leave behind to build their future world? Can they build balanced relationships with the natural world to be a no-waste civilisation?

A series of new instruments use synthetic biology, plant science and nanotechnology. Whilst cleaning the land, they remember the mistakes of the past and create materials to build a post-waste future. 

The piece responds to the scientific research, 'Cleaning Land for Wealth' (CL4W), funded by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and supported by Creative Outreach Resource Efficiency (CORE) at Loughborough University.

The project involves science teams from universities at Birmingham, Cranfield, Edinburgh, Newcastle & Warwick. 




The Workers, Photo by Lenka Rayn H








Bioacoustic Locator, Photo by Lenka Rayn H.




Digester, Photo by Lenka Rayn H.




Bacteria Tank, Photo by Lenka Rayn H.






The piece is based on the scientific research, 'Cleaning Land for Wealth', funded by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.


Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W)

The scientific research uses bacteria to produce nanoparticles from plants, which can be used to collect contaminants. The idea is to bring back to life areas of land lost through centuries of misuse, making land decontamination financially viable, and providing our manufacturing industries with new material, without the need for mining or smelting. But just how much wealth really is beneath our feet? In short, it is very significant. Globally, substantial land contamination exists and blights the lives of millions, but it is poorly quantified, particularly within poor and developing nations where there is limited financial motivation for this to be addressed. We do know that there are nearly three million 'polluting activities' and 350,000 sites affected by soil contamination that could cost €350bn to treat in the European Union. Almost two-thirds of the contaminated land in England and Wales contains metals - with arsenic and nickel accounting for about 40% of this. We have chosen to shine a light on our research through the lens of artists BurtonNitta with help from the Creative Outreach Resource Efficiency.

(CL4W website click hhere)

University of Edinburgh
Engineered bacteria at University of Edinburgh


Cranfield University
Gasification installation at Cranfield University

University of Warwick
Sunflowers grown at University of Warwick

Birmingham University
Nanoparticle characterisation at University of Birmingham

Extracted Nickel particle at Newcastle University





Instruments of the Afterlife


Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta


In collaboration with


Artistic team

Composer: Neil Luck

Musician: Lawrence Tatnall

Performer: Timothy Cape (Bastard Assignments)

Performer: Josh Spear (Bastard Assignments)

Actor: Emily Lloyd-Saini


Scientific team

Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W) (Link here)

University of Warwick (Link to CL4W webpage here)

International Manufacturing Process

Dr Kerry Kirwan

Dr. Guy Barker

Dr Maria Sotenko

Neale Grant


University of Edinburgh

Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology

Dr. Louise Horsfall

Dr. Matthew Edmundson

Dr. Michael Capeness

Dr. Virginia Echavarri-Bravo


Newcastle University

Process Intensification Team

Prof. Adam Harvey

Dr. Valentine Eze


University of Birmingham

Metallurgy and Materials Research

Dr. David Book

Dr. Dan Reed


Cranfield University

Centre for Bioenergy & Resource Management

Dr. Philip Longhurst

Dr. Ying Jiang


Loughborough University

Creative Outreach For Resource Efficiency(CORE)

Prof. Jacqui Glass

Amanda Miller



Supported by





Nominated for






Nominated for STARTS PRIZE 16'

Case Study: CL4W scientists and Instruments of the Afterlife

Publication: Crafting Our Digital Futures by Irini Papadimitriou, Andrew Prescott and Jon Rogers,2015, ISBN:978-0-9576868-4-7

The Larva, the test tubes, and the Trombone by Professor Jacqui Glass, 1st October 2015

Loughborough University project supports visionary research-based artwork by Loughborough University, 24th September 2015

When Arts meets Science by Jo Philips, .Cent magazine, 27th August 2015



Please join us for the launch exhibition & performance of the Instruments of the Afterlife

at the Victoria and Albert Museum

On 26th & 27th September 2015

as part of Digital Design Weekend

Between 12:00am - 17:00pm

in Sculpture Room 21a galleries
& John Madejski Garden




Performance @ V&A, Photo by Daniel Kupsovsky


Performance@ V&A, Photo by nickrphotography




See also...

Landscape Within




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