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Esmee Geerken (2021)

Artist and Earth Scientist

About Esmee Geerken

Esmee Geerken graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and obtained a PhD in Earth Sciences, with an expertise in the field of biomineralization and paleoceanography. Her hybrid ArtScience practice playfully questions our perception of the obvious – the curvature of the Earth, and the peculiar – how microscopic organisms build their shells.

Geerken’s artistic work draws inspiration from the materials and beings she encountered as an Earth scientist. Soils, rocks, seagulls, seafloor sediments, ocean currents and unicellular organisms called ‘foraminifera’ are amongst the subjects she has worked with. Geerken is specifically interested in the psychological and biogeochemical mechanisms that shape and propel our forms, connections and trajectories. Her work questions how knowledge, imagination and experience of our environment are entangled and affect how we enact with the biosphere: how do we form bodies, thoughts, shelters, societies and cities while being part of bigger systems?

Work at IAS - Build like a shell

What does it mean to build today, how did building evolve over time and how shall we build in the future? During her IAS ArtScience fellowship Esmee Geerken will explore building from a geological, chemical, biological and sociological perspective, in collaboration with IAS researchers, Waag and the Self-Organizing Matter group.

For the main course of geological time, most shapes have grown by the principle of self-organization, whereby order emerges without a master controller. Matter, life and human consciousness ‘cascaded into order’ as elements were organized into ever more complex shapes, fueled by a source of energy: geothermal heat, the sun and predation. More recently – geologically speaking- humankind started to consciously design the environment, while disrupting eco- and climate systems. Does our expanding human ego, seeking to capture the world in models, floorplans and blueprints, interfere with our ability of ‘being in the world’? Do buildings, cities and infrastructures always require constructors, architects and masterplans, or can they also grow organically, without humans as ultimate controllers? Would it be possible to build like a shell, by growing houses out of seawater and seeing them as expandable parts of our bodies?

By doing ‘Interactive Building Experiments’ Geerken will investigate the possibility of building as growing, existing and being, inspired by the proto-Indian European root of the word building: bheue-, ‘to be, exist, grow’. In these artistic-scientific experiments she will approach building as ordering elements (atoms, molecules, bricks, dancers, houses) into forms and shapes (molecules, bodies, houses, choreographies, cities). Thereby, an element can form a shape and a shape can become an element, forming new, ever more complex shapes.