Green fingers: digital and botanical art (2/2)

Gilberto Esparza, Plantas autofotosintéticas

Artistic practices involving video, robotics and biotechnology have completely changed our aesthetic perception of nature. We have moved from depicting "still life" to using living materials. The following is an overview of a few creations with digital combining with plant.

By Lityin Malaw

Have you read the First PART of this article?

There are cacti behind their smiles…

Some plants, aside from symbolism, seem to be favoured over others. A cactus was the subject of a photography installation produced from scans carried out directly on plants by Adrien Missika (Cactus Frottage, 2012). In contrast to these enigmatic and fragmented images, this artist and traveller has also designed a sundial the needle of which is…a cactus thorn (Sundial, 2016).

Cactus Frottage Adrien Missika
Adrien Missika, Cactus Frottage (2012) c-prints from prickly pear scan on metallic paper pasted on dibond 

Alain Fleischer’s videos (artist, film director and director of Le Fresnoy), immerse you in another dimension: between metamorphosis and morphing, as if subject to accelerated growth, the cacti develop hybrid and disturbing forms, turning into fantasy creatures (The Appearance of a Monster, 2016). Similarly, two other devices reflect the same principle: spreading dandelion seeds by blowing on a screen. Firstly, Edmond Couchot & Michel Bret (The Dandelions, 1990), secondly, Sennep & YOKE who have resumed this principle of interaction that can also be activated with a hairdryer (Dandelion, 2009).

From photosynthesis to CGI

We recognise the importance of flowers and nature in the work of Miguel Chevalier: Baroque & Classical (1987), Other Natures (1996), Ultra-Nature (2005-), Sur-Natures (2007-), Fractal Flowers (2008-), Trans-Natures (2014-), Flower Power (2017-), etc. Different versions of these artworks display a brightly coloured and lush imaginary flora, alternating between diffracting and retracting, swirling on the screen. Artificial plants and flowers have generative and interactive properties.

Miguel Chevalier, Fractal Flowers

But what seems even more significant in this context is Herbier Virtuel Sur-Natures (2005): Miguel Chevalier has devised his own conservatory based on 18 virtual seeds developing wired plants that grow and die in real time. Another version of this device looks like a conventional herbarium, in the form of a book. Inspired by Herbarius, the traditional bible for herbalists, this work also generates "fractal flowers" in real time, combined with equally generative texts by Jean-Pierre Balpe (Herbarius "2059", 2009).

Music of spores

Let’s leave the screen and virtual world and return to reality with artists who literally choose to listen to plants or to use them as instruments. Among the many sound installations of this kind, there is for example IN SITU: Sonic Greenhouse (2016) produced by Otso Lähdeoja & Josué Moreno who have transformed the greenhouses at the Helsinki Winter Garden into an actual natural sound-system: devoted to field recordings, they restore and amplify sound, silence, reverberations, moisture, water lapping and, depending on the sections, palm groves murmuring, cacti creaking and more.

IN SITU: Sonic Greenhouse by Otso Lähdeoja and Josué Moreno. Winter Garden Greenhouse (Helsinki, Finland)

Martin Howse practices the "ecology of signals" by connecting sensors in the ground, amplifying electromagnetic whispering trees, plants and mushrooms (Radio Mycelium). With Sketches towards an Earth Computer, he elaborates a sort of motherboard the components of which are metallic, electronic and above all organic (compost, mushrooms).

Martin Howse Sketches for an earth computer
Martin Howse: Sketches for an earth computer. photo: iMAL

The chemical reactions of these constituents and the variations in light and humidity establish feedback, "natural dialogue" that works like an evolving computer code. The duo Colectivo Electrobiota (Gabriela Munguía & Guadalupe Evelia Chavez) has constructed a sort of organic 3D printer (Eisenia, máquina de impresión orgánica) and also listens to plants, the acoustic assault that they undergo in urban environments and their reaction to radio waves (Rizosfera FM).

Gabriela Munguía y Guadalupe Chávez (Colectivo Electrobiota), Eisenia, máquina de impresión orgánica


"Interspecies" sound communication is also the ethos of Marie-Christine Driesen and Horia Cosmin Samoïla (Ghostlab) with installations that measure variations in voltage emitted by a plant and convert them into sound and light (Diffractions Transmutatoires, 2010). Nicolas Bralet, François Collin and Sabrina Issa broaden the range of sounds produced by plants and trees. Members of the LAAB (Non-Profit Art and Botanics Laboratory), they use atmospheric data and organic flows to which plants are subjected and since 2011 propose solos, duos and more recently a Concerto pour montée de sève (2016-2017). Grégory Lasserre and Anaïs met den Ancxt (Scenocosme) favour a more tactile and interactive approach. Caresses, light touches and human warmth set off the melodic moans, grumblings and murmurings of plants (LumifoliaPhonofolium, Akousmaflore).

Scenocosme, Lumifolia is an interactive garden made of shrubs. Their leaves react to humans strokes with sounds and lights.


Mechanical flowers and metallic leaves

Bringing vegetable and mineral closer, Cécile Beau plays us the microscopic sound of tree trunks decomposing and spores spreading in a setting that is as abstract as the sounds heard (Sporophore, 2014). She also shows us what we do not see, by exposing the roots of a tree that turn out to be exactly the opposite (L'Envers, 2010-2014).

L'envers Cécile Beau
Cécile Beau, L'envers  2010-2012. exhibition Subfaciem, Module, Palais de Tokyo, Paris

This installation can be compared to Kathie Holten’s inverted tree (Excavated Tree, 2009). Chico MacMurtrie’s Floating Tree displays bare aluminium branches that also resemble roots on a floating automaton overlooking East River. It contains a full-on robotics mechanism. Likewise for Growing, Raining Tree: again on a stretch of water, but inside, a gaunt tree comes to life and slowly reacts to its environment. The disturbing silhouette of a mechanical spectre…

Chico MacMurtrie also has a permanent public installation project in San José. A monumental sculpture slowly slides on rails and unfurls its glass and metal corolla to harness and recycle CO2. This huge mechanical flower invites reflection on the delicate equilibrium of the atmosphere that requires plants to counter the effects of climate change (Organograph). We must mention Daan Roosegaarde’s wall, a mechanism on another scale, with metallic leaves that open and contract in response to passers-by (Lotus 7.0, 2010-2011).

LOTUS DOME by Daan Roosegaarde - Turns House Of God Into A "Techno-Church"

Laura Beloff and Jonas Jørgensen also set plants in motion. From a distance their devices resemble torture sessions for plants. By subjecting Christmas tree shoots to an endless rotation under purplish halogen light, they partially simulate the microgravity conditions that influence their growth and also denounce the artificial selections and trade of plants (The Condition, 2015-2016).

Robots go green

William Victor Camilleri and Danilo Sampaio, associate researchers of the lnteractive Architecture Lab have designed an entire mechanical and autonomous garden! Based on a spherical structure with real plants within, this environmental installation has the ability to roll around the city like Rover in The Prisoner… Its course depends on chemical reactions (pollution, sunlight, etc.) directing it to places more conducive to the development of plants (Hortum Machina B).

Hortum machina, B from Interactive Architecture Lab 

 Lastly, a cross between a biomechanical insect and a Martian explorer robot topped by a small plant bed, Gilberto Esparza’s artefacts enable plants to move. This strange coupling is capable of wandering along a polluted stream on the lookout for nutrients in order for it to function, as well as the plant that it is "accommodating" (Plantas Nómadas, 2008-2013).It also brings to mind what Scenocosme proposed with its "augmented" plant that could move, explore its immediate surroundings, react upon human contact, and even make sounds like a household pet (Domestic plant).

Gilberto Esparza Plantas Nómadas
Gilberto Esparza,  Plantas Nómadas


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