Temporary Expert

What Do Plants Have to Tell Us?


This “final project” is definitely more of a piece in the process than an end-all. It is a tank full of air cleaning plants (golden pothos, aloe vera, sansevieria) that are trying to promote their value in a way that humans understand, which is through monetary value. They have little LCD screens to display their messages. The plants in the tank are able to support one person, so based on an extremely generalized calculation, I determined that my plants were producing about $0.01 per hour.

full view


Another Idea Iteration

My previous idea definitely had some holes in it regard to why people would find value in the air space I was wanting people to buy. They buy it and it’s there but then what?

I think major idea around of air rights is that there is value in the potential of the space to become a development that will have a bigger return on investment. I want to use this same logic but think about valuing the potential of the space to be preserved. Because we live in a country of capitalism, how do we to put a value on preservation that is competitive with development?


Plans for Final

I’d like to create a small ecosystem inside of a tall terrarium that mostly consists of air cleaning plants and layers of urban detritus in the lower section. I’ll have a site that allows people to purchase rights to volumes of air/space inside of my enclosure. They can affect the air by “polluting” into the ecosystem at a fixed rate per square inch if they choose to engage in development activities that have a return on investment.



Getting Closer to Something

I was having a difficult time narrowing how I want my project to exist and I’ve kind of been going a lot of random divergent pathways trying to understand air rights. I have to admit I’m sort of going in circles, but these are the circles that I’m thinking in now.

circlesssss ugh

I was able to talk with Margaret the librarian, and she was able to point me to some really good resources. From what I gather, the term air rights is mostly used in real estate or legal terms. This is a pretty big deal in New York City and air rights can be extremely valuable. I thought the stories around Penn Station and Grand Central were particularly interesting.

I’ve been expanding the term air rights to be more about how people (or entities) can own negative spaces. I think it’s fascinating that And no one can own the molecules in the air that are freely flowing and affecting every thing that breathes. No one really rules the air. They can try to regulate the air space (drones, planes, flight zones), reduce pollution in the air (greenhouse gas or pollution regulation, carbon sequestering), decide how human-made structures fill the space, and whatnot. There are a lot of actions big & small that affect the air quality and who gets to use these spaces.

our air

The impact on air is collective. And it seems to be pretty much driven by money. Everything I looked at in regards to air rights or ownership really ties back to being involved in an economic system.

And I think the important aspect of all of this is that a lot of shaming regarding air pollution and climate change has been shifted upon regular people (aka customers). How can we prevent air quality from getting worse? Recycle more? Turn off the lights? Carry a tote about how you love the earth? It’s a really tiny impact. To be clear, I think we should continue to engage in behaviors that reduce excessive consumption, but I think if we’re going to be smart about it, the change needs to happen at a higher level.

Conversations with Business People in Corporate America

I thought it would be good to talk to people who have seen first hand what higher level business activities look like. My knowledge in the realm of business doesn’t extend too far beyond economics 101 and the lifestyle section in Businessweek. Luckily, I have access to two business/economic people who happen to work at some of the largest companies in the world - McDonald’s and Facebook.

In their eyes, my main concern here is about mitigating negative externalities. These are harmful side effects to third parties caused by economic activity. Air pollution is a very good example. Essentially, whoever is doing business does not pay the full cost of whatever it takes to produce their goods.


Companies won’t really spend money to fix or prevent negative externalities unless it helps to bring them more business or is regulated by the government. Examples of the former are companies like Patagonia that promote their environmentalist values because it creates brand loyalty with their customers that share these values.

As far as what a smaller group of people can do to influence corporate giants from the outside, they recommended crowd-funding, corporate partnerships, using social media, and supporting companies that support your values. Companies are only really swayed by mass consumer opinion like when their reputation is at stake.

I asked them about what the critical mass would be to make some serious changes. Large decisions aren’t really made unless it has some kind of monetary benefit to the company. For instance, McDonald’s will only stop using plastic straws that pollute and kill wildlife when it becomes economically reasonable to do so. Like if they lose enough business from customers over this issue, then they would start to consider phasing out plastic straws. And it would be a decision ultimately made by McDonald’s shareholders.

Honestly, this a bummer to hear for me, but this is the genuine perspective of two people who don’t hate capitalism as nearly as much as art students in NYC. It was valuable in reframing who is making the decisions and where power lies in these kind of systems. I think a move towards reducing negative externalities would be to convince a company (at a high level) to play the long game and invest now for a future reward. Long term value. And they do this sometimes. I think it would be interesting to see if companies could view genuine altruism as something that’s as valuable as money.

  • Need to build under navigable airspace, which is the minimum height that planes are allowed to fly
  • column lot is the airspace from the ground to an imaginary plane 23 feet off the ground
  • air lot is the space above the plane that is 23 feet off the ground.
  • You can own portions of each lot. Don’t need rights to the whole thing, just the parts you want to develop.
  • Property owners can sell the development rights of their air interests, called transferable development rights (TDRs), but may be limited by zoning laws
  • “Pollution, gases, fumes, and foul-smelling odors may invade another person’s airspace without laibility as long as entry is reasonable and complies with applicable law.”
  • Do not have the right to sunlight (like if a development blocks the sun where you are) except in some states where there are laws to protect the right to solar energy.

The Narrowed Down Boundary

There’s a lot going on in all these systems, but now I’m focusing on how economic systems influence control over the ownership of air/negative spaces.

I was thinking of ways that this could manifest.

  1. Business (participant in the economic system)
  2. environment involved in an economic system
  3. environment as a visualization for an economic system

Art References

Economic Systems

duchamp bond Monte Carlo Bond, Marcel Duchamp (1924)

Nature and Control

eels Dielectrix I: Division Electrophorus, Max Hooper Schneider, (2016)

I could be a good boyfriend I could be a good boyfriend, Trevor Yeung (2013)

White White Acanthus, Trevor Yeung (2017)

References I’m Looking At

Interventions in Air Space

This post is in progress (need to add images, reformat, add context to what this is), but I’m posting it so it’s visible. Click for more.

Every day this week, I devised a situation in different spaces (indoor, outdoor, and intangible spaces) to intervene in the typical role of air ownership and negative space. These are thought experiments that I had since not all of them were feasible to execute.


New Inquiries About Air

The topic I’ll be diving into for the rest of the semester is air rights. I’m interested in how air is a public resource but people might own the space in different ways. It’s strange to me that other people are in control of the air or able to affect our health without our knowing or consent. I started off by writing down a bunch of things I think I related to this topic.


To get some more depth, I talked to my friend Clara who is knowledgable about many things in the realm of biology, the environment, data, and social justice. She used to work at the Environmental Defense Fund, which helped to develop the policy for cap and trade. We talked about carbon credits, placement of toxic waste sites, air quality data, accessibility of data, impact scales, and more. It’s also absolutely painful to hear me say “like” a million times. Here’s the conversation.

This conversation has definitely helped me understand how different stakeholders (scientists, policy-makers, communities, companies, etc) are playing roles in emissions, particularly in the US. Also what it takes to really make a dent in changing the thoughts or policy or action around air quality. I was skeptical about the effectiveness of individual actions and this sort of affirmed my ideas around that.

I also talked to my friend Kan who I went to engineering school with. He went on to study environmental engineering and I think he has a more practical approach on what it means to manage the air. I asked what he thought about cap and trade and he gave me some thoughts on air quality from a more technical perspective. This conversation is below.

I keep track of most of my references in Dropbox paper, which will live here.

So far, I’ve done some light research around how air rights affects architecture. Here are some of the links I found interesting.

A Field Guide on the Energetic Currencies of New York City

lin reading by plants

I finished up my field guide and overall it was a good process. My research felt more strucutred at the beginning amd the it eventually kind of got to a point where I wasn’t keeping track as well. At this point, I knew exactly what info I needed to fill in so I would seek it out, and then just toss a link at the end of my Dropbox Paper document where I was tracking all of my research resources. Some parts didn’t really require a lot of research, and were more reflections of how I feel.

karma in the field

Other parts required that I looked deeper into academic research. Especially when learning about the carbon cycle in urban environments. It took more time to find the right resources and write a simple explanation of something that’s part of such a big interconnected system.

urban carbon pools

Marina provided a lot of solid feedback from the previous work-in-progress version. I took into account most of the feedback - more spacious margins, typos, layout changes. I wanted to extend the cover illustration across the back, but ran out of time.

lin reading final field guide

Overall, it’s not perfect, but I’m happy with how to came out. I showed it to some friends and they thought it was a fun experience. I’m glad I was able to go through the process, albeit quickly, and doing a field guide is a great way to frame a topic.

My Field Guide is a Work In-Progress

marco reading the field guide

My field guide is still a work in-progress. It’s still missing a couple entries and a lot of illustrations, but I was able to get in a second draft version for critique this past Tuesday. Here is my first draft next to my second draft.


I was able to settle on a taxonomy, which ended up being:

  • energetic currency within yourself
    • meditation
      • chakras
  • energetic currency between people
    • karma
      • how to identify
  • energetic currency in the enviornment
    • carbon cycle
      • how to do better/balancing the budget

It’s visualized in my map/table of contents.

map in field guide

I did decide to stick with having a hole in the book. I think it goes along with the notion of a field guide being used as in info overlay out in the world as well as letting the reader exchange some energetic currency outside the book.

The voice of the book is meant to be friendly and at the same level as the user. I think part of good energy is balance, so I didn’t want to have an overly authoritative or aggressive voice.

karma pages

The illustration and visual design are also kind of a gentle children’s book style - partially because this is within my ability to draw and so it has a warmer vibe. Energetic currency is about exchange with other living things, so I didn’t want it to look overly digital.

unfinished sections

Critique was helpful. I think it wasn’t as easy to critique since it wasn’t 100% done, but got some good reference to check out:

There were good suggestions about how to make more use of the hole - different ways that people could interact by holding in certain positions in relation to themselves. I’m clearly not done with it, but everything is coming together soon! Desipte the stress, the time restriction has been helpful in forcing me to put my ideas down faster.

Taxonomies for Energetic Currency

I was honestly struggling to understand taxonomy until I read this Field Guide to the American Sandwich, which tries to categorize sandwiches based on the type of bread. I realized that taxonomy is sort of based on what someone thought would be good instead of it centering around something more scientific and precise.

One version of a taxonomy for energetic currency is to look at how energetic currency flows in a system starting from a small scale to a massive scale. This is a little bit inspired by Powers of Ten short film by Ray and Charles Eames.

powers of ten

I am super interested in how quickly (9 minutes!!!) they are able to convey information in this format. It’s almost a video field guide to the universe. My first try to create a taxonomy is more focused on the scientific process of energy flowing in natural systems. This follows the onion analogy.

  • ATP & photosynthesis in plant cells
  • Metabolism of an individual animal consuming plant energy (humans? cows? ???)
  • Energy needs & consumption within a community of animals (bees, ants)
  • Food chains within a ecosystem (producers, herbivores, carnivores)
  • Carbon, nitrogen, water cycles

Other possible taxonomies center around the attributes of what defines currency. The actions affiliated with currency are things like exchanging, consuming, creating, and representing value. And the way these actions occur seem to be dependent on the social structure of the community that uses the currency.

If we think about the ways that energy is exchanged, consumed, created, and valued in different systems, then energetic currency could be organized into the different relationships in which they exist. My goal with a field guide organized like this is to get people to think about how their actions of giving and taking affect themselves and the systems they participate in.

  • interactions w/ external (environment)
    • energetic currency in bees & effect of humans
    • human effect on carbon cycle (carbon as a measure of energy flow)
  • interactions with people
    • karma (action)
  • interactions w/ internal (self)
    • meditation how to (self care)
    • metabolism within your body

I was thinking about narrowing the boundaries to these processes happening in New York City, which would also mean that people could walk through the city and use the field guide. I think then my entries could focus on what it means in the context of being somewhere urban.

ideas for the physical field guide

I had the idea that I wanted to put a hole into the field guide. I think my first notion was that I wanted the viewer to be able exchange energy with the outside world, which would otherwise be blocked when they hold a booklet up to their face. I think it’s important for someone to be able to interface with things directly and as someone said in class, the field guide can act an info overlay.

I think the forced interaction can work, but I’ll need to try out different layouts and ideas. One reference I think is relevant is Lygia Clark’s Dialogue Googles.

lygia clark dialogue goggles

It’s kind of this weird industrial device that’s forcing an intimate experience in close proximity to someone else.

I had other ideas about human and nature relationships converging into some accordion folded guide, but I think window/cut out is more interesting for now.

an outline of the intro - what is energetic currency?

  • currency as an analogy to describe the flow and use of various forms of energy
  • talk about what makes something a currency (value, medium of exchange)
  • and what it means in the context of our relationship to ourselves and the external environment

draft on how to use this guide?

Take it outside with you as you move through the city. You might use start to use the field guide while you are out and also while you are home.


  • What is the meaning of energetic currency in different fields?
  • How is energetic currency related to my interaction with people, plants, animals, things?
  • Can forming an understanding energetic currency change how we approach relationships with people, nature, etc?

More Interesting Sources of Info


Biology / Ecology

Spirituality / Self

A Broad Overview of Energetic Currency

color map

For my energy field guide, the topic “energetic currency” has chosen me. To get things going, I took a broad look at what energetic currency means in several different contexts. Energetic currency seems to fit into the overarching topics of ecology, biology, money, spirituality, self, and social/human relationships. I think each of these contexts could contain many systems within themselves because this topic is so amorphous and conceptual.

In the map above, I have the most broad topics in the darkest color and then lighting as the branch away from main topics. There’s a lot of interconnectedness in the connections between energy flows happening within nature, between humans, and then finally between humans + nature.

Energetic currency doesn’t seem to be a officially defined term, so I’m very curious about where the research rabbit hole will lead. I’m a little concerned about finding a reliable source for the more New Age-y spiritual energy information, but maybe that’s just part of the research.

Below is the original paper of my map.

plain map

Interesting Sources of Info

Biology / Ecology

Spirituality / Self