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An Artist Is Turning Spit into Crystals

Get a mouthful of Inés Cámara Leret's unusual BioArt.

by Anna Marks
Apr 25 2016, 4:35pm

Image courtesy of the artist

Inés Cámara Leret is an experimental artist who fashions DNA into objects. From genetic information, she collects people’s "memories" via scientific procedures and rearranges them into works of art. She’s recorded a person’s breath onto a stone, constructed fossils to document current tectonic movements, and even created crystals out of saliva. As Leret says to The Creators Project, “I work with ephemeral materials. What interests me is taking something unseen and making it visible. This involves tweaking systems and reviewing the effect of cycles as I slightly modify them. It’s all about the cause and effect; the importance of chemistry and chemical reactions.

"Without an understanding of a concept’s structure, my projects wouldn’t really work."

The Creators Project spoke to Leret about her Spit Crystal and Memory Stone projects to understand why she’s fascinated by fusing memories, biological and otherwise, into works of art.

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Image courtesy of the artist

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Image courtesy of Richard Eaton

The Creators Project: In Spit Crystal, you take saliva and, using a crystallization process, turn it into crystals. Tell me about this thought process.

Inés Cámara Leret: A lot of my work involves using materials found in cyclical processes and spit is one of them. It contains 99.5% water, but I focus on the 0.05% which gives us a biological blueprint of who we actually are. I’m fascinated by the cultural connotations of spitting—a way to seal the deal, to wish good luck, to get rid of tobacco. In today’s Western society it’s seen as a horrible thing—and was prohibited in our recent history because it was deemed to be vehicle for spreading diseases. Contrastingly, there’s a tribe in Peru who use saliva to cook—all the women chew on pieces of corn called “choclo” and spit it in  a pot and this process of fermentation allowing for the corn-based beer called “chicha” to be produced. There are many different cultural attitudes towards saliva. In Spit Crystal, I’m taking something as unimportant as spit and turning it into a more visible construct.

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Image courtesy of Richard Eaton

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Image courtesy of Richard Eaton

Was it a really gross process? How did you do it?

(Laughs) It was a horrible process. The crystal took a month's worth of saliva which I kept in the fridge. I mixed it with salt and eventually heated the solution, allowing it to cool to make the crystals. Currently, I’m collaborating with Science Gallery London who has allowed me to work alongside salivary researchers from Kings College, to investigate the crystallization process, and whether or not the geometries in the crystal could give insight about the donor’s health.

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Image courtesy of Richard Eaton

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Image courtesy of the artist

Talk me through Memory Stone.

I took the ancient method lithography­ where data is captured and forged into a limestone’s surface by ‘printing’ people’s breaths upon it. The key issue in Memory Stone is that the audience takes an active role in the image making process. Participants were asked to breathe through a solution of my bodily composition of carbon, water, and fat through a diffuser which then dispersed the breath all over the stone. After each breath was deposited, the stone was treated with lemon water, talcum powder, and white spirit to alter the chemical structure of the stone; embedding each visitor’s permanently. In doing so, each person’s breath was forged into the stone, layer after layer.

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Image courtesy of the artist

What did you want to show with these projects?

I reflect upon the relationship we establish with our environment through these cyclical and ephemeral materials. Eventually nature always wins. By using unconventional materials my projects are highly experimental but simultaneously participatory; allowing for a more direct engagement with the audience and hopefully shifting the passive experience of art to an active and a pivotal one.

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Image courtesy of the artist

To view more of Inés Cámara Leret’s work, click here.


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Experimental Art
science art