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Xenia Citizen Science Project

Citizen Science and a Bitter Orange Tree

Over the course of six months, Charnett Chau and Danielle Purkiss from the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub and artist Sarah Carne collaborated with Xenia to run a Citizen Science Project around plastic design, food waste and composting. Based on the Hub’s Big Compost Experiment, this smaller version offered an opportunity for the researchers to find out about people’s experience in more personal detail. In addition to working with the composting group who experimented with bokashi bins, hot bins and wormeries we held online sessions for the wider group to discuss citizen science itself, food waste, plastics and associated topics including space, smell and the practicalities of where to donate your compost if you don’t have access to a garden. 

Following Xenia’s practice of using objects in Hackney Museum’s collection as prompts for conversation we spent time talking about Object No  2008.202, a ‘degradabag’ accessioned a number of years earlier and now slowly biodegrading in a plan chest in the stores. The resulting discussion about collection care brought to mind other evidencing of care during the experiment: Xenia’s care for its members, Hackney Museum’s warm virtual welcoming of the women back to a space that had been shut to them for months, the citizen scientists’ concern for their bins and the artist and researchers’ own practices. As a result, the idea of how care manifests in practice became central to the outcome of the commission.

A Bitter Orange Tree and an Orange Tree: Practices of Care is an anthology of contributions by those involved, whether by role, occupation or volunteer activity as citizen scientist. As the bringing together of content developed this naturally extrapolated out to include those involved in the process of its production, and in the spirit of collaboration and shared learning, others’ experience and knowledge is brought into the final work. 

About the artist

Sarah Carne

Sarah Carne is an artist based in east London whose concerns are around status, value and rank and how these determine the opportunities we access, the materials we use and how we are perceived. Of particular interest are age, gender and how our society is structured to privilege those who can manifest confidence. She uses text, video and conversation as a way of drawing attention to and undermining the metrics and language that serve as barriers to participation. www.sarahcarne.co.uk

About the researchers

Charnett Chau

Charnett Chau is a Research Associate within the Department of Chemical Engineering and at the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub (PWIH). She has a biochemical engineering background and is specialised in applying life cycle thinking to analyse the environmental impact of products and systems - life cycle assessments (LCAs). Within the Hub, her research approach informs areas for improvement within plastic systems, and assist with the optimisation of sustainable design interventions. She has co-authored reports on the current UK system for biodegradable plastics, the environmental dangers of single-use masks and recently on the use of plastic tree shelters in tree planting meet the UK's "net-zero" target. Charnett is interested in the techniques of communicating research to the general public and understanding its role in the exchange of ideas to promote knowledge growth for all members involved.

Danielle Purkiss

Danielle is an Architect and Research Fellow at the UCL Plastic Waste Innovation Hub (PWIH). Drawing from a diverse range of technical design and communication skills, her research focus is on circular economy thinking and sustainable design led systems interventions. Danielle is co-creator of the Big Compost Experiment citizen science study into compostable plastics, and has co-authored reports on the current UK system for biodegradable plastics with PWIH. She teaches and lectures in the UK and internationally.

Join the festival

Thursday 15th April, 6-7.15 pm

This event invites you to hear about the process of running a citizen science project from those involved and discover whether the biodegradable plastic placed in the composting bins last year has successfully completed its breakdown. Accompanied by an introduction to the anthology and a Q&A.

The anthology 'A Bitter Orange Tree and an Orange Tree: Practices of Care' is available in hard copy format on request. Click on the link below to book for the event.



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