Are all lives equal?

Live performance: Soot-o-Mat by Špela Petric

16 jul 2016

Do you value some lives above others? Špela Petric's Miserables Machine: Soot-o-Mat is an artistic installation which questions the notion of equality between living organisms. Coming Saturday you will have the chance to meet with the artist and see her work in action. Over the course of 12 hours Špela will create two new graph-lampshades by dissecting and electro-stimulating mussels within the machine.

Facebook / Free entrance


Miserable Machines: Soot-o-mat - Misserable machine using mussels to create vases Using mussels to create vases - an overview of the system that you can now see in the Mediamatic Eten Restaurant Špela Petrič (SI)


Miserable Machines: Soot-o-mat, 2015

author: Špela Petrič, design: Miha Turšič, advice: Andrej Meglič, engineering and realisation: Scenart, produced by: MU, Eindhoven, supported by: Bioart and Design Award. Thank you: Andrej Razpotnik, Katja Zdešar Kotnik, Polona Tratnik, Jaka Železnikar

Špela Petrič

"In this work mussels are mercilessly lashed into an electro-stimulated design apparatus to make a vase. The creatures are allowed to relax up to a certain point, then shocked, prompting movement that scratches a design onto the object. The resulting form might be seen as a sobering memento mori, a reflection on manufacturing processes that exploit biology, or our own inevitable destination, after much toil, that amounts to mere scratches on the earth, for what? Biodesign calls for integration with living systems as a technological, environmental, and moral imperative, but such a work should give thoughtful pause to enthusiasts. Numerous and potentially dangerous assumptions underlie the act of plugging biology into technology.
The work takes form very slowly: in six hours the cylinder will move just 20 cm upwards, while the contractions happen only once every 20 minutes or so. Within it the mussels live and die in a self-stimulation loop, a cycle of work and relaxation that eventually kills it, in service to the machine, the design, and the product. If we humans, at an essential level as economic actors, are ourselves engaged in a similar cycle, in the machine of capitalism, what does it say that we would export this to other species? Is this really the best we have to offer? The artist summarizes the work as a “biologically-augmented analog-machine poem, a scientifically didactic view of muscle contractions, and lastly a sharp commentary of obsolete but still persisting modes of production with blatant exploitation of living systems.”
- William Myers

Miserable Machines: Soot-o-Mat

Soot-o-Mat is the first in a series of 'Miserable Machines.’ These machines are ‘unsuccessful’ hybrids between the technological and the biological. They are unsuccessful in that their aim is banal but a whole organism is sacrificed in order to fulfil that aim.

How it works

A small dissection is performed on the mussel to take out the part that keeps the shell closed. This part is then strapped to the machine lever. One end of the lever draws on the slowly rotating and rising glass cylinder; the other end is attached to the mussel. It takes about 15 minutes for one full rotation of the glass cylinder and so in six hours the cylinder will move just 20 cm upwards.

The mussel contracts and relaxes with electro-stimulation every 20 minutes. This contraction and relaxation is what draws the patterns on the glass. When a mussel is removed from its shell it still has some energy stored and so can continue working for another five hours. Once the life of the mussel is complete and the drawings have been made, the cylinder is turned into a lampshade.


Miserable Machines: Soot-o-Mat - Close up of Spela Petric's work in which mussels are electrocuted to create a vase. Špela Petrič (SI)

Unethical Origins

There is, unfortunately, quite a high death toll with this installation, as not all mussels survive the dissection and die straight away. It is not the purpose of the project to kill these animals but to show that some lives are valued less than others. When faced with an electrocuted mussel powering an artwork, a different kind of empathy arises, but Špela would like to remind the public of the general mentality towards mussels when it comes to boiling and eating them.


Soot-o-Mat by Špela Petrič - The first installation of the Miserable Machines series has been set up in the Mediamatic Eten restaurant. Lisanne Groenewoud

At Mediamatic

The work is currently installed in the Mediamatic Haeckel Room and will stay there for another month. However, the live action will only take place on Saturday 16th.
Come and watch the painstakingly slow process and gain an insight into the the hard work that goes into creating even the most banal of products. Are all lives equal?

Miserable Machines: Soot-o-Mat at Mediamatic.
Live performance, Saturday July 16th from 10:00 - 22:00
Mediamatic Biotoop, Dijkspark 6, Amsterdam