tropism's and timepieces





by k. andres april 15, 2010

IN PROGRESS----------DRAFT-------------------

Artist Statement

Parameter: creation of a movement environment

Proposition: art as a perceptual event through animation, perception and sites for movement

Possibility: the time-slip of the event: choreographing a changing ecology of experience

Tropism's and Timepieces is a series of parameters, propositions and possibilities for perceiving movement in relation to the choreographed rhythms of plants. Plants are always moving in a circular direction, a spiraling from the moment the cotyledon emerges from the seed. This movement was studied in depth by Darwin (and others) in the late nineteenth century through a series of analogue motion-tracking tools meant to analyze the movement and behaviors of various plant species. The physical movements of plants, for the most part, exists in a different time-space, one that is difficult to witness during regular human observation-time. To see the circumnutations of plants one must set up a technical apparatus to record their growth over long periods of human-time. These recordings can then be animated so that one can view their dynamic movement in our own time - a time-space where the slowness is erased and made parallel to our own. In the article Animate Form, Gregory Lynn suggests that animation “implies the evolution of a form and its shaping forces: it also suggests animalism, animism, growth, actuation, vitality and virtuality.” Through animation I have begun a process of learning how these organisms grow, change and adapt to various conditions. It is captivating to view these time-lapse documents and to contemplate the plant's gestures, a movement that exists on another plane and remains invisible unless reproduced through technical means.

As part of my research in relation to plants, the senses, movement, choreographies, observation and time-space I have established a “set” where I can continuously be present in this changing architecture of growth. Setting up a space in the Concordia Greenhouse where these organisms can grow and be observed by video cameras and direct observation has provided a rich experience in adaptation and has initiated a state of becoming more aware of another organisms time-scale. They, like humans are a time-based medium, and we collaborate together at a sort of virtual intersection. To some extent, I would like to drift closer to their world-- the slowness, the circular, the direct reflection of exterior stimuli such as sun, nutrient and rest. These complex elements make up our lives but are often invisible or taken for granted -we don't rest when we need to, we consume and waste many natural materials. Throughout the past couple months, I enter into and out of their space- they are always changing, always growing and in comparison, my growth seems less visible. Perhaps my hair is longer, or I trim my fingernails but I am not spiraling towards the sky a foot a week like the vines, or stretching my roots to the earth inches per day like the squash - or am I?

I no longer perceive these organisms as passive, fixed or stable - I know they are always moving and my perception has changed, has been altered - not only through observing them in my own time through the time-lapse but also through learning to perceive very small details of movement, very gradual and subtle alterations in my own time. Am I seeing double? Am i capable of observing the plants invisible qualities? What are the potential applications of learning to alter ones preconceived perceptual state - is this important? Brian Massumi writes that “seeing an object is seeing through to its qualities. That’s the doubleness: if your not qualitatively seeing what isn't actually visible, your not seeing an object, your not seeing objectively” (Massumi, The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens). The interaction is an interacting in a different site, a semi-virtual region that is in the "real" of our perceived physical space but is somewhere unreal perceptually - it is not instantaneous but learnt over time and close observation. Visitors to the plant room can interact with the environment only if they are willing to let go of their own time-sense, and only if they can suspend the need for immediacy and are willing to “just-be” over hours, days and months - and the interaction is initially banal, it is not producing an immediate jarring experience. Walking into the greenhouse does produce an immediate and overwhelming sensory experience as this is the space of mostly-plants not mostly-humans, that is apparent through the light and colors, the olfactory cues, and the overall environment, but to engage with the plants in their own time... a visitor must change something in the way they perceive. The interaction is a willingness to suspend ones own sense of time, ones own markers of time-travel, ones reliance on technical indicators of location in the day. A visitor must interact with an unfamiliar system in a “reciprocal becoming”. But is this possible for most people? How can this exchange be communicated or facilitated? How can the work be interactive in the moment when an exchange between the artwork and the participant is necessary? How can an experience with these slow, quiet species communicate such ideas to a casual and impatient explorer?

Structures linked to the same associated milieu must function synergistically.
Gilbert Simondon, Technical Individualization

My collaborator Alison Loader and I, have set up the space to learn from and monitor the changing states of these plants (vines, vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, zucchini, sunflowers, mimosas, and carnivorous plants). We have conducted our first “event” for visitors to explore and experience some of these interactions in a variety of forms as well as documentation of some of our attempts to interact with the plants as an artistic medium. The first performance staged a number of sensorial plant-interactions through touch, smell, gastronomy, video documentation prepared of the time-lapse surveillance, microscopy of the plants, a fertility clinic performance - for pollinating in a non-natural environment (without insect pollinators) and Alison’s project Kinder/Garden where the fruit of squash is shaped into “fetuses”. After this initial trial run, we have decided to re-stage another public event next month where we can expand on these activities to introduce visitors to our work through a performa-garden party and installation. One of the things we try to do in the form of the event and one of the elements that is important to us is to let visitors “explore” and to avoid pointing out - to thus create a relational architecture (Massumi) instead of a didactic space where people must experience what we have already perceived, what we know. The space, to some extent is only accessible to those who are curious and engaged.

Lately, as the plants mature we have been "inventing". Relying somewhat on intuition, online research and our knowledge of electronic media technology, we seek to aid the plants in their reproductive functions in an environment where they lack symbiotic counterparts such as pollinators or exposure to rain and other beneficial nutrients. Solving pollination issues through close observation and tracking with video monitoring and then hand pollination has proved successful so far as the plants are beginning to produce fruit. The next project in mind are networked “buzz” pollinators to vibrate tomato plants with motors. A small amount of vibration allows the pollination to occur. The next stage of the project has opened up a huge potential in the form of prosthetics to deal with changing ecologies. Lack of insect pollinators is a problem not only encountered in the closed space of the greenhouse - this is also an increasing issue in urban centers with the rapidly decreasing bee population. I am also contemplating introducing passive pollinators such as butterflies... although I rather become a bee keeper than a soldering whiz, this is not a solution I can offer within the shared space at the time. The more closely we work with plants as artists, the more we understand them and can then offer creative interventions into and among their complex processes.

I I have been working through Darwin's lesser known text, The Power of Movement in Plants published in 1880 (full text and many illustrations from all of Darwin's manuscripts are available on this site). This text is technical in nature with a few strange anecdotes comparing the circumnutations witnessed by his growth and sensitivity detection experiments displayed by the plant subjects to certain behaviors and gestures displayed by humans - although mainly the text illustrates his work over many years observing plants and their heliotropism's and nastic movements. For example, here is a typical illustration titled Figure 22 Vicia faba: circumnutation of young epicotyl, traced in darkness during 50 hours on a horizontal glass. Movement of bead of filament magnified 20 times, here reduced to one-half of original scale.

Figure 22. Darwin. The Power of Movement in Plants from the online Darwin archive

It reminds me of a choreographed dance-step illustration. How could these diagrams along with the experiment's parameters "traced in darkness during 50 hours on a horizontal glass" translate into a movement composition? Perhaps this text could be used to reproduce some of his experiments through movement and performance and to look for ways that his research can provide guidance in relation to working with plants and electronic media - which, of course was not available in the 19th-century. I am interested in learning and sharing an altered perspective, to begin to unfold an understanding of the complex relationships to other species so that a possible shift in perception may be possible and furthermore, in an attempt to displace simplistic categorizations of non-human organisms.


Arakawa, Gins. Architectural Surround. Architectural Body.
Lynn, Gregory. Animate Form. Animate Form.
Massumi, Brian. The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens. Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation. Number 1.
Deleuze, Guattari, “Affect, Percept, Concept” What is Philosophy?
Simondon, Gilbert. Technical Individualization.