The Phosphate Standard


Speculation at the intersection of economics and synthetic biology

Commissioned by


Scope of Work

  • Speculative Design

Website Credits

The history of the world’s smallest republic, the island of Nauru, located in Micronesia in the South Pacific, seems like an entirely fictitious tale of technological progress and capitalism.
It just so happens that phosphate, in its highest quality, is derived from the excrement of specific seabirds, the Guano, which often flock above, and dung on, the island of Nauru. As a result, by the late 1960s, the phosphate rich island boasted the highest per capita income enjoyed by any sovereign state. It then had its phosphate reserves exhausted, was defined as a “rogue state”, and proposed as a nuclear waste dump site.

The research project is a speculative reimagination of a new world, one that built around an economic shift towards phosphate, extrapolating from current mechanisms of globalization and economics. In this world synthetic biology on a large scale will require huge amounts of this inorganic chemical, one that, besides its heavy use as fertilizer in the agriculture industry, is a key ingredient for the existence of all biological life, for its ability to initiate cell division, and to form the DNA and RNA molecules.

White light, Aww white light, it lighten up my eyes
White light, don’t you know it fills me up with suprise
White light, Aww white, heat tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I tell you now goodness knows, now work it!

Velvet Underground

Artificial replica of Nauru covered with bird faeces
Future Fictions, Prespectives on world-building exhibition at Z33 Art Centre © Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Credits & References

Studio NAND

In collaboration with Marian Kaiser | The Category

Head of Programme Anthony DunneCurator David Benque;

Exhib­ited at Future Fictions – Z33, House of Contemporary Art; Institute for Unstable Media Rotterdam