What is the Shape of Water?

A Cross-Species Meditation

by Lisa Moren and Dr. Tsetso Bachvaroff


November 1 – 10, 5-10 p.m.
The Columbus Center • Baltimore

installation ON EXHIBIT EVERY NIGHT during the festival, 6-10p.m.
Located on the second floor of the Columbus Center [ IMET ]

Weds Nov. 6, 6-8 p.m. Aritsts Reception

Sat Nov. 9, 7-9 p.m. – Bonnie Lander and bioluminescent organisms will perform in the installation
sign-up outside installation on Saturday to attend one of the 10 minute performances.

Pouring bioluminescent dinoflagellate pyrocistis’s in a ripple tank at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology [ IMET ], Oct 23 2019.

The audience enters a pitch black room with thousands of invisible organisms floating above their heads in a skylight aquarium. They’re invited to speak, and if they do their voice drops to a chant-like rumbling sound that excites the bioluminescent dinoflagellates into illuminating. Their blue glow mimics the shape of the sound waves in the water. Therefore, if you ask “what’s the shape of water?”, the dinoflagellates will tell you.


LISTEN TO the DNA RESPONSIBLE FOR creating bioluminescence


[ 4 minute excerpt of 6:40 hours ]

Algorithm by Jan Willem Kolkman



This system will trigger DNA transcribed audio, specifically the sequence that produces bioluminescence
[ the luciferous enzyme ]. The dinoflagellates will bioluminescence in accordance to their own DNA.


At the IMET Open House on May 4th, we displayed “What is the Shape of Water?” in progress along with a dinoflagellate detector version of Chesapeake Bay Water Watercolors.” This combined watercolor pigments made out of Bay water with augmented reality.

When the user detects the paintings with these organisms typically invisible to humans they appear large in an underwater animation.



Eyes Under the Bay

Making the invibilities of the Bay visible in augmented reality

work in progress

This is part of a larger project where Tsetso, partner marine biologists, and citizen scientists are sequencing the DNA of the Inner Harbor. The goal is to learn the contents of the Chesapeake’s Bay water in order to solve Baltimore’s harbor problems. Sensors are placed throughout the harbor where live data can be extracted reading PH, oxygen, temperature, etc., at various depths.


The data from the Eyes on the Bay sensors will be animated live in an augmented reality app, “Eyes Under the Bay.” For instance, when oxygen levels rise and fall, an organism will billow and undulate, another data point will show color variation, and physical changes in the image reveals turbulence and so on. Music and voice-over narratives describing the bay critters will make various connections between data, memory, story and visual observation. Sexual diversity will be described as a necessary part of the dinoflagellate survival and evolution, and the women’s march may likewise be seen as a world wide algae bloom that also occurs when environments are out of balance.