Biosphere, the part of the Earth in which life exists.

Biosphere 2, the world's largest enclosed ecosystem, was touted on its launch in 1991 as a "living art form" in addition to being a prototype Mars colony and a vehicle for investigating holistic theories of ecology. The project quickly became embroiled in controversy with the "discovery" by investigative journalists that the project's founders were not "real" scientists but rather a theater company/commune with alleged cult tendencies. The group, the Theater of All Possibilties had worked and lived together since the late 1960s and had a long interest in environmental issues, bringing science and art together, with the ideas of Sufism, Gurdjieff, Buckminster Fuller and W.S. Bion. From the beginning of the first mission, the project was plagued by negative publicity and unfavorable climactic conditions, though the crew did make it through the two year enclosure (1991-1993). Eventually, disaffected group member and oil heir, Ed Bass, fired the original group and hired Columbia University to manage the facility. Columbia rigorously suppressed the early history of the project in an attempt to reestablish Biosphere 2 as a credible hard science research facility, but eventually ceded control back to Bass who sold the land to a property developer.

Biospheria: an environmental opera mixes together ambient music, a subtle presentation of narrative texts (signage and spoken word), institutional set dress (“costumed” buildings and attendant grounds) and choreographed bodies in the landscape to metaphorically address the myriad themes of Biosphere 2. But the work is also about the space it occupies. Our first production investigates the marriage of science and capital, suburban homogenity, and latent utopianism embedded in the social terrain of a southern California university campus. Here we use the idea of “found opera” to work with the inherent operatic properties of the locale, bring out subjective qualities in the landscape, and set up contexts in which space itself may sing. The work is further activated by the audience/participants who play roles in Biospheria as expressive pedestrians: working together in small groups, navigating the landscape with lo-fi technology and unwittingly performing for passersby as agents of the opera.

The structure of our first production in March, 2001 took the form of a tour through the University of California, San Diego which served as an allegorical stand-in for Biosphere 2. In Biospheria, audiences move from space to space visiting a sequence of live, interactive tableaux. Each stop represents an historical moment in the lives of the Biospherians: early years on the commune, the period preceding the construction of Biosphere 2, future aspirations and intermittent epiphanies along the path. The majority of the text and music portion of the opera is delivered via headsets. Audience members are divided into units of eight representing the eight ecosystems of Biosphere 2 — rain forest, desert, savannah, marsh, agriculture, ocean, technosphere and human habitat — and the eight inhabitants who lived inside. The libretto is comprised of a series of fictional Biospherian diary entries written by eight writers in different cities via the web. Voices reading excerpts from the libretto may be heard on the soundtrack. The music proceeds largely from the idea of technologically controlled or mediated nature, so it derives largely from high-tech simulations of "natural" sounds. The opera ran between two and one half to three hours.

Our Story So Far...
Our first project was an installation at Sushi Performance and Visual Art in January, 2000 which explored the hothouse economics of the San Diego Padres Ballpark Redevelopment Plan and its relationship to closed system capital and ecological economies. A hallway space was transformed into a hybrid science project/new age shrine with a nod to the material refuse of urban redevelopment schemes. Next we produced a videotape which presented a more lyrical and apocalyptic take on the utopian dimension of local housing developments at the edge of the desert. The tape was presented at “Visceral and Virtual,” Performance Studies International’s 6th annual conference in Tempe, Arizona in March of 2000 and at “Growing Things: Biotech, Nanotech, and Eco-Meat Art” an art and science symposium at the Banff Center in June of 2000. We also presented “Cultivating Utopia” a panel discussion about Biosphere 2 in March, 2001 with original Biospherian, Dr. Roy Walford, Constance Penley, Hillel Scwartz and moderator, Adriene Jenik.

Future productions of Biospheria/other projects Biospheria is a modular work that can be produced in multiple forms and in a variety of places, contexts and communities. Conditions for production include public access to a variety of exterior and interior spaces, local commitment to collaboration and economic feasibility. Preferred spaces include nature preserves, landfills, natural history and art museums, aquariums, urban streets, elementary school dining halls, parks, freeway divides and traffic islands, beaches, office buildings, and parking garages. Opera & Overdevelopment is made up of artists and designers and does not carry a stock group of performers, but instead seeks to work with community-based talent in each new context. Every production is then a co-production with local producers and performers reshaping a new version of the work.


About the creators

Steve Ausbury is an artist living in Brooklyn, NY. Steve’s performance work has included "Mir is Here" in collaboration with Irina Danilova, at Franklin Furnace's and "Principal Dances" performed at The Last Cleveland Performance Art Festival in 1999 and in Mexico City in 2000. In theater he has worked with the Wooster Group, Richard Foreman and Marianne Weems. He also performed with choreographer, Deborah Hay in her work "Music," in Austin, TX in 2002. He directed "Biospheria: An environmental opera" based on the strange phenomenon of Biosphere 2. The site-based, participatory work was co-produced in La Jolla, California with composer, Anthony Burr. An ancillary video installation and audio tour was constructed at the Cinematexas Festival in Austin, TX in 2003. In film, Steve wrote the screenplay for “The Debt,” which won the "Prix Canal Plus" at Cannes in 1993, his co-written feature screenplay, "Flaming Hearts," was optioned by LA-based Stone Creek Entertainment and his short films have screened internationally. His solo and collaborative visual artwork has been exhibited at The New Museum, The International Center of Photography, Grey Art Gallery and 303 Gallery in New York City and is in the permanent collection of The Whitney Museum, MoMA and The Brooklyn Museum. He co-curated the art exhibits: “Spaced Out: Southern California Vernacular” about urban planning and pedestrian practice in Southern California and “Disabled Environments” in Austin, TX, an exhibit that matched people with disabilities with installation artists to make critical works about contemporary urban space and accessibility. His drawings are currently exhibited in “Glossololia” a group show at Gallery Aferro in Newark, NJ.

As a clarinetist, Anthony Burr has enjoyed a distinguished career as an exponent of contemporary music. He has performed in this repertoire with many leading groups, including Elision, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Sospeso, and the Chamber Music Sociey of Lincoln Center, often as soloist. Among the many composers with whom he has worked in the presentation of their solo works are: Alvin Lucier, Helmut Lachenmann, Brian Ferneyhough, and Magnus Lindberg. He has worked widely outside the classical arena too with artists including Jim O'Rourke, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn, Mark Feldman, Chris Speed, Jim Black, Ikue Mori, Tim Barnes, Alan Licht, Mark Dresser and many others. Ongoing collaborations include a duo with Icelandic bassist/composer Skuli Sverrisson, The Clarinets (a trio with Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega), a series of recordings with cellist Charles Curtis and a series of live film/music performances with experimental filmmaker Jennifer Reeves. As a composer he has specialized in the creation of epic scale mixed media pieces, most notably Biospheria: An Environmental Opera, created with artist Steve Ausbury in response to Biosphere 2. It was performed in San Diego in 2001, and sections were mounted in archive form as part of the cinematexas festival in 2003. Another project of this ilk was The Mizler Society, a burlesque on early modern music theory, J.S Bach and the Art of Fugue, which he created with John Rodgers and was presented by the Australian Art Orchestra at the Melbourne Museum in 2002. He has produced and/or engineered records for La Monte Young, Charles Curtis, Skuli Sverrisson, Ted Reichman among others, and has a doctorate from University of California, San Diego. Upcoming releases include a new Anthony Burr/Skuli Sverrisson double CD with guest vocalists Yungchen Lamo and Arto Lindsay.