Retention / Detention

Retention / Detention is a sculptural and biological intervention, using principles of bioremediation to tell the story of water and humanities imbalance with nature.

The retention pond on the property of the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC enables a direct collaboration with a local aquatic ecosystem that is out of balance and suffering from algal blooms and low oxygen events as a result of over development and human generated run off. This man-made island provides a reciprocal benefit of reducing micro plastics and excess nutrients in the pond while also growing native species plants through a process known as bioremediation. An array of native water plants were planted throughout the island in Spring 2022, filtering the water by absorbing excess nitrogen and phosphates through their submerged roots and by collecting microplastics via it’s sticky biofilm. By reducing the nutrient levels in the pond, these plants help reduce algae blooms which can lead to low oxygen environments where toxic cyanobacteria can grow. In 2024, an algae inspired sculptural structure will be added to the island, pulsing with light that visualizes data collected through a solar powered water quality sensor bank. At sunset, this time lapsed translation of data from the island’s sensor system into light and color, makes the invisible visible.  It’s function and form provide a multi-media, water quality barometer for our community, expanding awareness of when the ponds aquatic ecosystem teeters in and out of balance. This project started as a part of the Algae Societies “Confluence” show and was created by The Coaction lab, led by Gene A. Felice II as a permanent installation at the Cameron Art museum in collaboration with Dr. Catherina Alves de Souza and the Algal Resources Collection at UNCW. A special thanks goes to Hayden Tuttle, a Digital Art / Computer Science undergraduate at UNCW that was crucial in developing the code and electronics for the water quality sensor lighting system.

Retention / Detention explores collaboration across the arts and sciences while also creating an opportunity for community education and dialogue. The Cape Fear river and the greater Wilmington, NC regions ground water has been poisoned by PFAS forever chemicals from the nearby Chemours plant, while also seeing a massive development boom over the past decade, clear cutting long needle pine forests for high density housing developments.  Since Wilmington is only 15 feet above sea level and hurricane prone due to its location along the shores of the Atlantic, every time a new development is created, they dig to elevate the new structure and offset that by creating a retention or detention pond to protect against flooding.  Most of these ponds become a toxic soup of chemical, agricultural and residential runoff.  Retention / Detention attempts to bring these destructive practices into focus through an innovative form of bio/eco art-based storytelling.

The impact plan for Retention / Detention is to use this initial prototype system as a model for future, site specific bioremediation interventions.  Retention and detention ponds are not isolated to the Cape Fear region.  They are used across the country as short-sighted solutions to overdevelopment.  Too often they are left as barren holes in the ground with no form of aeration or native plantings.  The algae that grow as a result is demonized as the culprit when our pets or children become sick when swimming, instead of looking inward at our own culpability. We must educate to make change.

The audience intended for this work extends far beyond the initial prototype site at the Cameron Art Museum.  As the visual sensor translation system comes online, we plan to communicate directly with our greater community as they drive by this centrally located site.  Future iterations could reach an even broader range of communities in both public and private locations.  We would like to develop new innovations in the island structural system that are built from locally sourced and sustainable materials as well as the exploration of plants that could also be harvested and reused as compost or livestock feed.