Contrary to popular belief, urine is not waste but a biofluid rich in information, providing valuable insights into the metabolic state of an organism. Utilising the archival properties of urine in a visual diary, Aqua Vita maps our body's ever evolving ecosystem, proposing a new understanding of health as a dynamic, resilient system. From blue to green, red to black, medieval physicians would observe more than 20 sheds of their patient's urine, as well as examining their texture, smell and taste. What does your urine say about your health?

Aqua Vita is a project developed for the Desginers & Artists for Genomics Award, by Susana Cámara Leret and Mike Thompson in collaboration with the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre, with the support of the Sino-Dutch Centre for Preventive and Personalized Medicine.

The Netherlands Metabolomics Centre focuses on the development of metabolomics based technologies and instrumentation to address the current and future challenges in biology, biotechnology and biomedical research in order to improve personalised health and quality of life.

The Sino-Dutch Centre for Preventive and Personalized Medicine (SD PPM) bridges the different philosophies underlying Western and Chinese medicine, based on scientific biochemical language following a Systems Biology approach.


The genetic mapping of the human genome has provided a code of three billion letters and within this reductionist approach of molecular biology, lies western comprehension of disease, based on physiology, cell biology and clinical observations. Metabolomics can provide unique insights into life's processes, enriching our understanding of physiological and cellular biology, particularly in the pathways linked to disease. The human body is host to many organisms, our cells being outnumbered by bacterial cells 10:1, and metabolic exchanges within and with the environment constitute a body forever in flux. Metabolites are fundamental building blocks of life, involved in processes between genes, proteins, cells, organs, body and the environment, and are hereby understood as messages of life. Urine is a biofluid rich in information, providing insight into the metabolic state of an organism. Contrary to popular belief, urine is not waste but a by-product of blood filtration, being composed of 95% water and 5% vitamins, antibodies, proteins and other elements. This 5% could be referred to as a sum of histories of an organism, containing personal metabolic phenotypes that result from our lifestyle, diet and health condition.

Looking to traditional Chinese medicine we are inspired by the narratives developed to describe the process of disease development. Aligned with a systems biology approach in a holistic interpretation of the human body, traditional Chinese medicine maps the underlying processes within the body's ecosystem. 1000 years ago, the Arabian physician Avicenna observed that an individual's urine changed during sickness. Despite this traditional knowledge, urine is commonly regarded as abhorrent in western society. Modern western anthropocentric and outdated notion of health as a state of completeness, situates individuals in a constant state of disease. Contemporary efforts are being made to address health as an ability to adapt, understanding it as a resilient system where a one-solution-fits-all approach no longer applies. Advances in molecular profiling technologies may lead to a greater degree of personalised medicine and in this tailored approach to health, individual histories become indispensable.

Aqua Vita visualises personal metabolic stories, combining two sources of narrative information. Traditional Chinese medicine obtains information from an organism in a processual examination, through the symptom profiles of individuals. In turn, modern technologies can develop metabolic profiles of urine, comprehending in-depth information resulting from bodily fluctuations. Merging both approaches, Aqua Vita proposes the creation of chronobiological metabolic paintings, understanding an organism's homeostatic changes as evolutionary adaptations. Metabolic snapshots taken daily, are fed into a timeline creating an evolving stop-motion animation, illustrating the many bodily stories that take place over a lifetime. Visualising individual chronomes, health and disease are merged into one life process, portrayed and monitored through time.

Aqua Vita attempts to situate life beyond its genetic code, addressing organisms as complex networks of many interacting levels. The goal is to depict health as a dynamic, resilient system, promoting individual responsibility for correlations between lifestyle and diet. Utilising the archival properties of urine in a visual diary, Aqua Vita aims to animate the Book of Life, visualising the narratives that conform its stories.