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Artists Tackle Chemical Trails Inside Body


Today The Bay Citizen will be publishing our Fall Arts calendar — with listings, courtesy of SFArts.org— but consider this a preview of a preview. Two of the recommended events, the Mill Valley Film Festival and 01SJ, the technology/arts biennial opening on September 16 in San Jose, share an unusual area of overlap.

One film emphasized in the Mill Valley press conference was a Swedish documentary called "Submission," directed by noted filmmaker Stefan Jarl. Jarl, who first became interested in the subject of human intervention in nature over three decades ago, with "Nature's Revenge," imagines "Submission" to be a companion piece, of a sort. It's his look into the frightening impact of 20th and 21st Century chemicals into the human body. He analyzes his blood — and that of a pregnant woman in her 30's — and finds hundreds of chemicals. "I can't hide my shock," he writes on his web site. (Movie arrives on screens on October 15-16; see calendar here.)

But the variety of ways that these chemical traces--from food additives to drugs to flame retardants (?)--can impact both the adult and the unborn is not yet understood, which is the reason two Bay Area residents have created Alviso's Medicinal All-Salt. This art project, announced with a darkly funny web site, is done by Eyebeam Art and Technology Center fellow Jon Cohrs and UC Berkeley water researcher Morgan Levy for the art-and-tech 01SJ festival. 

The All-Salt is so named because it contains bits of every pharmecutical that you are probably taking right now—Advil, Prozac, Xanax, Claritin, Lipitor, the works. As the web site notes, this magical salt is taken from "the brackish waters of the Artesian Slough, which channels treated wastewater (known to contain a variety of pharmaceutical compounds) from the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant to the South San Francisco Bay." In other words, it's some of the stuff that "Submission" told you was in your blood — just deposited from waste water to salt and now available as a pill.

And for 01, visitors can see the magic of bioaccumulation in action, as Cohrs and Levy create their own small salt bed to harvest their All-Salt concoction. Cohrs said that the goal of this project was to "get people talking."

"Just questions like: What is this? Why don't I know anything about this?" he said, "There's very little research in this area and the problem with so little research is that whenever someone tries to prove or disprove anything, the results are inconclusive." 

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