Ithaca Events

2022 Cornell Biennial: "Waste Not" by Matéa LeBeau and Bella Culotta

Monday, September 26, 2022

+ 4 dates

  • Tuesday, September 27, 2022
  • Wednesday, September 28, 2022
  • Thursday, September 29, 2022
  • Friday, September 30, 2022
Free Event

Human waste cycling is the circular system of reclaiming valuable nutrients from human waste to use as fertilizers and soil amendments. Municipalities currently pay to dispose of our waste in landfills and waterways without recovering our excess nutrients. As landfill costs rise and water pollution increases, current sewage systems are neither economically nor environmentally resilient. These systems overlook a resource excreted by every human each day– our nutrient dense waste. In a utopian model, nitrogen, currently synthetically produced through an energy-intensive process, would be recovered in mass from liquid waste to produce urea fertilizers. Phosphorus, a non-renewable mined resource, would be recovered from solid waste in biochar form to produce an organic soil amendment. 

Reclaiming human waste to use in food production might be novel for western societies, but this process has been used globally for centuries to supplement soil nutrients and enhance plant growth. Breaking through these taboos can spark a cultural transformation of our waste cycling system and deconstruct notions of western superiority in climate and agri-food practices. In search of adaptive solutions to sewage treatment, soil health, and food production, Waste Not can begin to prompt its audience to reconnect with and engage their waste in new ways. We hope this project can bring value and respect to agricultural and waste strategies that colonialism has deemed “savage” for centuries. 

Waste Not: In search of adaptive solutions to sewage treatment, soil health, and food production is a living sculpture created with the intention of demystifying a process that challenges core perceptions of waste. We believe an art installation centered around human waste cycling can provoke viewers to see the potential of this initiative, and envision themselves functioning within it, without requiring an in-depth understanding of the scientific process. We often avoid conversations around the wastes we generate – Waste Not begins to deconstruct these deep-seated biases and illustrate the interdependence of human waste and our food system.

Waste Not features fruiting crops emerging out of six toilets in a circular formation. The edible garden planted in these reclaimed toilets are growing in a soil media consisting of coco coir, softwood biochar, human waste biochar, and pasteurized urine*. We hope this installation helps envision the value of phosphorus and nitrogen to edible and nutritious plant growth in the excrement we flush away.

*Our human solid waste has been autoclaved, dried, and pyrolyzed to become biochar. The char was immediately quenched with human urine at 700C. This reaction forms covalent bonds between the ammonia gas and the activated carbon molecules in the fecal biochar. A result, a biosafe nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium loaded substrate was created to feed our plants.   

Visit Matéa and Bella's installation in the Rock Garden between Olive Tjaden Hall and Sibley Hall from Aug 28-Sep 30, 2022.

Celebrate the opening of the installation on Aug 30, 2022 from 5-7p and learn more about Matéa and Bella's project!

2022 Cornell Biennial
Sponsored by the Cornell Council for the Arts and curated by Timothy Murray, the 2022 Cornell Biennial "Futurities, Uncertain" features exhibitions, installations, and performances by 23 international and 17 Cornell-based artists. Free and open-to-the-public events will rotate on the Cornell Ithaca campus and the Cornell Tech campus in New York City from July through December 2022.

Attend our Celebration Weekend from Sep 15-17, 2022 on the Cornell Ithaca campus. The full list of participants, along with the calendar of 2022 Cornell Biennial events, will be updated in real time at

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