Everything is Going According to Plants
Draft M.F.A. Thesis Project Proposal
by Cory Metcalf
Note: This is a draft proposal, near completion. Final proposal will be submitted to thesis advisor, Timothy Weaver, by the end of the Fall '12 academic quarter.
Everything is Going According to Plants is a botanical garden of sacred plants, artificial life simulation, interactive installation, and performable instrument. The project draws from ethnobotany, complexity theory, the interactive and performing arts, mysticism, simulation, and data-visualization / dramatization. Positioning humans, plants, and machines as agents within a confined ecosystem, it seeks to foreground otherwise hidden aspects of our collective interactions. As the first in a large body of future works, it is also a test bed for visualizing and making tangible the invisible and unknown aspects of human-plant communications. This proposal outlines the project, introduces some of the disciplines and artists that influence and ground it, and discusses the methods that will be used to realize it. Finally, it postulates potential outcomes and possible trajectories for future works and research.
Statement of Purpose
The goal of this project is to investigate aspects of human-plant communication that can not be plainly sensed with our normal perceptual abilities and to transcode the results of those interactions in a cogitable form. In a time of global environmental crisis, the project hopes to raise questions about the way we interact with plants. To what extent is our historical and future fate as the human race tied to that of plants? And, as they are a vital part of our being able to breathe, how can we engender a greater reverence for them before we run out of breath?
Summary Project Description
Everything is Going According to Plants, is an artificial life and synthetic ecology simulation focusing on the intersections of human and plant communication. Envisioned as a compelling aesthetic installation space where viewers can encounter and contemplate sacred plants, it is also an evolving and transforming audio visual instrument. It asks both audience and performer to experience the project in the now-space, each moment a glimpse of something that is, is constantly becoming, and can never be again. Composed of abstract virtual audio-visual forms engaged in long term interactions with sacred plants and human viewers, the aim is to create a system of structures and agents with a clear set of founding constraints, but no predetermined outcome. As an artistic and inquisitive “what if” machine, it is free from the pressures placed on scientists approaching similar problems to produce hard data, repeatable outcomes, or applications in the “real world.” Instead, it creates a space of exploration. As an installation, it focuses on mining the field for emergent audio-visual vocabularies, aesthetic spaces, behaviors, and experiences, while as an instrument it challenges the performer to encounter a sublime unknown and to enter the jungle, encountering things strange and unfamiliar, forging a pathway in the moment, seeking with a goal not to discover what is known, but to ask the questions: What has become? What is becoming? and What might be?
The simulation will use a variety of techniques, including but not limited to: data visualization and sonification; machine learning; direct and indirect audience interaction; real-time sensing; bio-chemical structures and interactions including human and plant metabolic processes and genomic data; geological processes; evolutionary metaphors and mechanisms, including adaptability, sexual selection and pollination; currents; and migratory pathways. While this list is extensive, it is not exhaustive, and is likely to shrink at some edges while growing at others. These different elements will come together into both a physical environment and a virtual environment, each growing according to the constraints imposed around them. To allow for greater complexity and more extensive possibilities, the physical and virtual environments will both be permeable, endowed with the ability to act upon each other, creating an agent-structure feedback loop. I will describe these different aspects in greater detail during the materials and methods section below.
Intended to last at the least one week and hopefully somewhere from three weeks to a few months, most of the time it is an immersive installation environment for an audience to encounter, contemplate, and explore. The physical space will ideally be a hot-house like environment, using a combination of algorithmically controlled lighting design, live projection, embedded screens, and living botanical specimens of sacred plants from around the world. An activated space, sensors will monitor the activities of viewers and the state of the plants, using the data to control the environmental constraints that determine the growth of the virtual world. The virtual space, composed of abstract audio-visual forms and guided by an evolutionary metaphor, will unfold so that over time the entire vocabulary will undergo both imperceptible and dramatic shifts. A visit to the space one day could differ slightly or radically from the next. It may become unrecognizable over a period of weeks, or reach a sort of equilibrium for days at a time, only to transform in a moment as some unforeseen event changes the fabric of the virtual reality. The presence of the plants, however, provide a steady and grounding influence, existing in a time separate from the computer clock and the human observer.
However, more than just an environment, it is also a performable space, an instrument of unknown dimensions and changing boundaries. A few times over the course of the installation, a performer will enter the space and engage in a dialogue with the forms and their virtual milieu, coaxing and quelling certain behaviors, challenging and changing the space for an audience, and in the process altering the future development in ways that can only be seen in the time to come.
Influences and Interests
This work is a culmination of my own artistic practices, wedding interests in complexity, A-Life, performance, non-verbal language, cognition, biology, and the mystical. In this section I will discuss some of my influences as well as artists working in parallel lines of inquiry.
Although recent years have seen a growing interest in complex systems theory, investigations of complexity by artists is not a new phenomenon. Following are some of my primary artistic influences that exemplify this pursuit.
John Cage is an early example of someone who was interested in incorporating aleatoric methodologies into his work to find the unknown. His 1951 work Imaginary Landscapes #4 used live radio broadcasts as the raw material, with performers dialing in and finding the music based on predetermined rules, while in 1952, he created his oft sited work 4'33”, which used no music at all, the performer simply setting the stage for an experience of close listening by sitting down at a piano and playing nothing for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, allowing the sounds of the space and audience to become the music. David Dunn is another strong influence and perfect example of someone working within complex systems to find unexpected and in some cases, scientifically important results. His Chaotic Oscillators series create tiny sonic ecosystems where each node of sonic emission is also a listening node, allowing the development of call and response systems. He extended this concept into the analog realm in a way that directly parallels my own pursuits with this project in his 1976 work, Mimus Polyglottos, which appeared on his 1996 release, Music, Language, and Environment. In this piece Dunn starts a conversation between his chaotic oscillators and the Northern Mockingbird, Mimus Polyglottos, ultimately teaching the bird to sing sounds not found in nature. In his more recent Sound of Light in Treesi, Dunn set out to record the interior of trees using DIY ultrasonic recording devices and in the process made important discoveries about the perceptual mechanisms of pine beetles, a natural predator of drought affected pine trees and responsible for alarming devastation of pines across North America and beyond. This happenstance discovery has led to a new body of research and Dunn is now known as the world leading expert in pine beetles. The works of Woody and Steina Vasulkaii focused heavily on exploring a newly developed medium, video, for the full range of possibilities that differentiated it from other media, resulting in a lexicon of analog video techniques, some of the earliest live-cinema performance works, as well as some of the earliest use of robotics in performance and the development of the first digital emulations of these techniques. Of particular importance to my own trajectory was the 1997 OS9 software Image/ine, developed by Steina and Tom DeMeyer during Steina's Creative Directorship of the Netherlands based STEIM (The Studio for Electro Instrumental Music). The first software platform to emulate real-time analog video processing techniques, it single handedly changed my direction from narrative film to real time systems thinking, a core component of my continuing investigations. Constantly seeking at the edges of any medium they work in, the Vasulka's are models of expanded and experimental approaches. These are just a few of the artists working with complexity, and a quick glance at the late Stephen Wilson's Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture alone leads to a list of names that would fill this entire paper. But is it any wonder that this is such a popular subject of discourse? One can come from any discipline and find that complexity surrounds us everywhere: from the evolution of thousands of distinct languages and their resultant specialized perspectives on their native environments (Davis, One River 1997), to the astonishing variety of insect technics in every milieu (Parrika, Insect Media 2010) to the mysterious emergence of life on earth, to the very fact that matter clings together at all, there is no shortage of in-roads to complexity thinking. What I think is shared in common among these works is a deep fascination with the variability, fragility, and robustness of complex systems and the ways that new tools and models of perception can allow novel insights into otherwise hidden worlds.
Embodied Cognition and Phenomenological Experience
Artists like James Turrell (1943-Present), LaMonte Young, and Kurt Hentschlager represent another important line of inquiry: that of embodied cognition and phenomenological experience. Employing his background in perceptual psycholgy, Turrell's works ask viewers to slow down and engage consciously in the act of perception. By carefully creating spaces that focus light in relation to the human subject, Turrell is able to short circuit our perceptual apparatus, causing the viewer to have an experience that occurs somewhere between perceptual cognition and external object recognition, confusing the senses and distorting scale, orientation, and visual information. In a 2005 interview with Sarah Douglasiii, Turrell said something that I often feel about my own work: "I feel my work is made for one being, one individual," he said. "You could say that's me, but that's not really true. It's for an idealized viewer.” The work is not made to be understood in the conventional rhetorical sense, but rather experienced. He went on to say: “Sometimes I'm kind of cranky coming to see something. I saw the Mona Lisa when it was in L.A., saw it for 13 seconds and had to move on. But, you know, there's this slow-food movement right now. Maybe we could also have a slow-art movement, and take an hour." This last statement speaks directly to the approach that I want to take with this project; there is no peak moment or distilled kernel and to truly experience the work, one must slow down, return multiple times, and allow an understanding to develop not through intellect, but through embodied experience. LaMonte Young also explores embodied and living cognition in his work DreamHouse, a long duration sin wave music drone that relies on standing waves and resonance within the body to create a unique experience for every visitor. This testimonial by David Farnath from 1996iv does a good job of capturing the experience.
“Each sine wave vibrates in different parts of the room, so that the chord you hear changes as you move through the room. [...] The visitor with an acute ear can actually "play" the room like an instrument: explore the sound close to the wall, close to the floor, in the corners, or just standing still. Or lie on the floor and allow the sound to float you to heaven, slide you into hell, or transport you wherever you want to go.”
Kurt Hentschlager's recent work, Zee, operates somewhere between the works of Young and Turrell. Composed of a large sound stage filled with dense fog and strobing lights, it creates a space for phenomenological experience. As the mind searches to interpret the abstract fields of light as concrete patterns, the viewer begins to hallucinate geometries and archetypal visions. Always large scale and overwhelming to the senses, Hentschlager's work as a solo artist and previously as a collaborator in Granular Synthesis, seeks to create a spectacle that engages the sensorium of the viewer as well as the intellect.
Ethnobotany and Entheogenics
The role of plants, as the name of the project suggests, is also a primary component. The field of ethnobotany has given us access to indigenous plant knowledge and the vital role that the relationship to plants plays in indigenous cosmology. A distinguishing characteristic of cultures that use plant based mild altering substances as an integral part of their world view is that they revere the plants as god like spirits. Ayahuasceros, mushroom eaters, and coca chewers alike all share the belief that it is not simply a chemical compound, but the spirit of the plants that alter our consciousness. The notion of plant based intelligences and ontologies, or summarily, plant perception, was most widely popularized by the 1973 book, The Secret Life of Plants, written in collaboration by Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird. While the book opened up a lot of interest and speculation into plant perception, the pseudo-scientific approaches and grand claims made in the book also became an easy target for marginalizing the discourse. Subsequent research by Michael Pollin, in his book and film of the same title. The Botany of Desire (2002), reinvigorated public interest in the subject. In it, he postulates that plants are using us as agents and the human art of cultivation is actually a vegetative reproductive mechanism. To bolster his argument, he sites several plants that have seen dramatic and prolific diversification over unnaturally short time periods with the assistance of human cultivators. This work is extended by Richard Doyle in Darwin's Pharmacy (2011), which specifically focuses on the ability of certain plants to evoke altered states of consciousness (ASC's). Over the years there have been many people who have attempted to recast psychedelics and remove them from the psychedelic era container. Richard Evan Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany, along with a host of other ethnobotanists, coined the term entheogens in 1979 to distinguish the spiritual or ritual use of ASC inducing substances from the strong association with 60's pop culture and the recreational use of pyschedelics. The term entheogen comes from two latin roots, entheos, translating roughly as “divine within” or “full of god” and genesthai, meaning “to come into being.” Thus entheogenic substances and practices are those that fill the participant with a feeling of being or being connect to godly beings, to the divine. Continuing the effort to recast the operational language used to talk about these plants, Doyle proposes the term Ecodelics, a reference to the sense of interconnectedness and responsibility for the earth as a living ecosystem that we are part of, not separate from or above. These operational terms may on the surface seem superficial. Is not psychedelic referring to the same experience? For anyone who has studied linguistics at even a cursory level, the answer has to be no. The way we structure our approach to language seems to have a great deal to do with how we view the world. By discarding the term psychedelic in favor of more integrational terms such as entheogenic and ecodelic, it allows those newly introduced to the ideas to have a primary departure point that is not covered in paisley and guitar feedback, but in a rich world history stretching back millenia. Only by looking beyond the recent history and into the near recent and ancient past can we reinvigorate and be extension continue to investigate the assistive powers of ASC's as a cultural tool. This is a broad field of investigation and I will look to many other ethnobotanists, writers and artists such as Terrence McKenna, a leading figure in research about the use of mind altering drugs in human history and Richard Strassman, MD, one of the only people conducting government sanctioned studies on these substances in the US.
Previous Works and Foundations
These different areas—complexity, embodied cognition, human-plant interaction, and altered states of consciousness—are all equally important in the proposed project and represent a very broad field of research and could encompass a lifetime's work. However, my own artistic investigations have already taken me deeply into some of this terrain. My early work investigated non-human ontologies, mystical experiences, and invisible worlds. This was most strongly represented by the installation and performance work, Sensor Swarm (Metcalf 2001). As an installation, Sensor Swarm created an invisible backdrop to a large scale installation space exhibiting the works of over 20 other artists. Sensors monitored the flow of traffic through the space, and at peak moments, every screen and projected surface in the environment as well as every speaker would suddenly become saturated by images and sounds of cicada's. As a performance, it built a library of sonic emissions and images of cicada specimens as the vocabulary of a sample based instrument, playable using midi input. Work done over the past several years with my performance and installation group NoiseFold, co-founded by myself and artist and researcher, David Stout, has extended the idea of interacting with invisible or autonomous systems. Creating semi-autonomous environments, performers and audiences witness a real-time unfolding of bio-mimetic forms, alien landscapes, and hypothetical architectonic spaces. While human control is a large part of the unfolding, it is more akin to the practice of circuit bending or gardening, where certain processes are already underway and any interaction functions less as a prime directive and more as an augmentation.
More recently, my solo work has focused on ways of knowing, and on encoding, transcoding, and decoding information through novel systems. The name NoiseFold is actually an allusion to the idea that within noise one can find any possible formal expression of image or sound. Cryptovid (Metcalf 2011) is a home-baked one-time-pad video encryption system that turns any video signal into noise through the use of a randomly generated unique key, unlockable only by the inverse paired key. Signature Sound (Metcalf 2012) is based on my long standing interest in systems of divination that attempt to use objective data to gain a view into the essential or primary essence of the individual. Presented as a steam-punkesque oracular alchemy machine, viewers could distill their essence in the form of light and take it with them in a tiny bottle. While aspects of this project fell short of what I was hoping to achieve, witnessing the way that the public, and in particular children, interacted with it and held their distilled essence as an object of great importance revealed
The fields of research I have outlined are broad and will likely lead to more, and the monumental scale of the proposed project is daunting. Perhaps it is naïve to think I can accomplish what I have set out to do, but much of the preliminary research has been done by others before me and my previous work has created a body of knowledge that will help make it possible. I also have access to a wealth of collaborators and consultants in each of the fields, from my advisers and colleagues here at DU, to the Santa Fe Institute, to the Plant Signaling Research Cluster at the University of North Texas, to the entire team at Cycling74. With greater than ever access to information across historical and cultural boundaries and with the new technologies available to us, it is more possible than ever to achieve the level of synthesis I am aiming for. In closing this section I would like to return to Turrell's statement: "I feel my work is made for one being, one individual. You could say that's me, but that's not really true. It's for an idealized viewer.” My work is as much to provide myself with a field of investigation as it is to present one for others. The goal is to cause whomever encounters it, myself included, to question normal modes of perception and understanding and consider the possibility that there may be other ways of knowing. Challenging our conventional ideas of what it means to know provides an opportunity to re-envision our role in this world as humans and as individuals.
Materials and Methods
This section expands on the methods used and threads woven into the proposed project, Everything is Going According to Plants.
The project is conceived as part sacred garden, part simulation, part interactive installation, part data visualization / sonification machine, and part instrument. Each of these aspects require different approaches and serve different purposes within the context of the work at large. The short term goal of the project is to create a provocative experience of the digital embedded within the material, an environment rich with both plant life and digital “life”, where viewers act as pollinators, unwittingly carrying data from point to point and coaxing along a process with no predetermined end. In the long term, the purpose is to seed a body of future work that, on the one hand, explores non-traditional and fringe ways of knowing, and on the other investigations into the possibility of plant consciousness as an active agent in the development of human and global trajectories. At the core of the project, Everything is Going According to Plants (hereafter referred to as EIGATP for the sake of brevity) is a complex generative audio-visual simulation of human/plant interactions. A mediated dialogue between plants, humans, and machines, it gives agency to all three, allowing each to act upon the others with little or no ability to understand or predict the potential impact of acting.
Questioning the dominant modern western assumption that humans are the greatest and perhaps the only conscious beings, and by extension, the keystone agents of affecting change, EIGATP places primary agency in the limbs of plants while shifting human agency to a secondary role. To this end, a substantial part of the project is the inclusion of actual sacred botanical specimens within the installation environment. These sacred plants will be cultivated throughout the development process and presentation period and monitored for various biometric characteristics including nutrient uptake, transpiration, turgor pressure, and rate of growth. This information will be collated over the entire cultivation period leading up to the beginning of the simulation to create fixed data sets for use within the virtual environment. Once the presentation period begins, the collected data will be used to define edge conditions of the space, while new data exerts real-time influences on both the physical and virtual environment, affecting light, sound, and perhaps even physical layout.
To facilitate this, it will be necessary to create a laboratory / garden / hot-house environment. This space will house the biological specimens, provide a test bed for early prototypes, and create an embodied dialogue between the plants, programmers, and virtual agents. Requirements for the space will include controlled lighting to simulate (and actually facilitate) both diurnal and nocturnal photosynthesis, sufficient HVAC to maintain or manifest specific temperatures and levels of humidity, and enough space to allow for small audiences during exhibitions and larger, though still intimate audiences, during performances. The space will ideally be located within or near the Denver city limits and have a connection to a relevant institution such as the Denver Botanic Gardens.
The question of which plants to use for the project is important to address early on. The field of ethnobotany demonstrates that every culture the world over has considered or does consider certain plants to be sacred. These plants can be elevated to sacred status based on a wide variety of reasons such as sustenance, pigmentation, medicinal characteristics, both curative and poisonous, and, finally, the ability to elicit altered states of consciousness. Extensive monitoring of these specimens will directly influence the virtual simulation space and consequently, the visual and sonic displays of the virtual agents. This in turn alters the visual and sonic character of the physical space that the plants themselves inhabit creating a plant/machine/environment feedback loop. In addition to exerting an inherent impact based on the biometric data, the plants also serve as attention vectors, enticing unknowing or even knowing human agents to observe. This interaction and giving of attention will amplify the degree to which the plants govern the virtual agents within the simulation.
Preliminary to the creation of the lab, a number of factors relative to the choice and viability of particular specimens need to be considered. First and foremost is the question of legality. While many of the plants under consideration are legal to cultivate, there are gray areas around that legality. Finding an institution or establishment that will allow me to do this research is an important and pressing concern, and the proper language and theoretical context will be key to being successful in this pursuit. Wade Davis, author of One River and ethnobotanist for National Geographic, and Richard Doyle, author of Darwin's Pharmacy, both provide great role models for grounding the study of sacred plants in a reputable field of research. Davis more for his ability to contextualize the historical context through a biographical and phenomenological lens, and Doyle for his ability to ground the investigation firmly within modern philosophical and scientific context. Another equally important concern is selecting specimens that either share ideal growing parameters or finding a space that can accommodate isolated growing environments. If neither of these conditions can be met, I will choose a smaller set of specimens to make the project possible.
Visualization and Sonification
Visualization and sonification of data, both real-time and recorded, are extremely important factors in EIGATP. Unlike some visualizations that seek to distill information to a kernel, the goal is to create a complex ecosystem of data. The virtual agents that populate the simulation will develop based on two layers of data: a genetic code matrix that is passed on and evolved through reproduction and a memetic layer that is expanded and shared through interactions both within and external to the system. The genetic layer would cover things like the array of possible visual states or the particular frequency spectrum of sounds available to a given agent, the average lifespan, etc. The memetic matrix on the other hand would include things like social behaviors, vocabulary (the particular shape of sonic expressions), affinities toward certain modes of interaction such as play. The particulars of these two code bases still need to be fleshed out, but the important part is that change can occur based on both experiential data and evolutionary direction.
The visual and sonic environment will rely heavily on abstraction, using similar visual and sonic techniques as previous installations done by NoiseFold such as, 100 Monkey Garden (2005) and iIi (2007). Some of these techniques include the use of video feedback techniques on the geometries of the virtual forms, the sonification of geometry data, the use of generative textures to thwart standard expectations of 3D, and the ability for the forms to replicate and evolve. By creating an abstract visual environment and keeping a slight distance from traditional western musical vocabularies, EIGATP seeks to create a wilderness of new forms and experiences that defies easy categorization. At times this may illustrate the data, while at other times it may obfuscate it or even completely obscure it. By juxtaposing different data sets, the unexpected can emerge and the inclusion of live data, human and plant agents, and virtual agents with a certain degree of autonomy, ensures that no two runs, or even two days, of the simulation will be the same. Admittedly there is also no guarantee of compelling aesthetic spaces. In some ways this mirrors the human discovery of various admixtures that are highly unlikely to have been found by chance, but nonetheless have been found and constitute a breathtaking array of recipes.
Some specific datasets that will be used are the plant DNA of the selected botanical species, the chemical compounds that are responsible for the more active properties of the sacred plants, climate data pulled from the native regions of each plant, the growth and transpiration patterns of the garden, and a number of additional real-time inputs, described in more detail below.
A defining aspect of the project is the role of interaction. Two-way interactions between humans and plants, plants and machines, and humans and machines will determine the growth conditions and final aesthetic outcome of the simulated environment. This interaction may be direct or indirect, intentional or incidental, with ramifications large or small, brief in manifestation or permanent and course altering in scope. Bridging the digital and analog worlds and allowing for this communication is a mesh network of physical sensors. These will monitor human and plant agents as well as environmental conditions.
For sensing human interaction, Microsoft Kinect cameras will be stationed over head throughout the space, recording movement and rest and feeding that data into the central brain of the system. Possible outcomes from human interactions could include cross-pollination of different environments (by stopping to pause at one plant, then another), enforcement of certain visual and sonic expressions (through paying special attention to screen space during a particular moment, or perhaps the clothes that people are wearing could augment the texture palate used by certain virtual populations), or alteration of virtual currents and consequently interactions among virtual agents (from standing in one place too long, like a rock in a river). Some of these may affect the possible range of mates, changing the genetic makeup of the environment, while others would act more on the memetic layer.
Plant and environment sensing is a larger task, with sensors for light, including both infrared and uv, soil dampness, nutrient levels, turgor pressure, transpiration of gasses, atmospheric makeup, electromagnetic fields, and empirical observations such as rate of growth all coming into play. Each plant species, in addition to contributing to the overall environmental factors that govern the virtual world, will also feed data into a particular subset of the virtual population. Those agents particularly effected by any given plant will exhibit the impact of plant-human interactions more actively. These affiliations will develop and change over time based on the movement of forms within the system and on patterns of human interaction.
The final piece to EIGATP is the aspect of instrumentation. As an instrument it seeks to challenge the performer by constantly changing and complexifying the raw materials of the instrument. The performer is asked to enter into an improvisational dialogue with plant based intelligences and virtual agents, a call and response with a barely known other. In addition to the range of interactive possibilities outlined above, the performer has access to the entire history of the space and can move backward in time, reintroducing possibilities that exhausted themselves or that never came to pass. The performer can also amplify the impact of any or all input sources, allowing for dramatic changes to the environment or agents in short periods of time. This power is not without a cost, however, as all the changes that the performer makes are persistent, permanently altering the environment. Much like the role of the shaman in many cultures, the performer acts as radical conduit to other worldly ways of knowing and experiences, experiences that change participants, who in turn change the world around themselves.
EIGATP requires a wide breadth of technical skills and research foundations, from botany to micro-controller sensor networks, to motion tracking, data-scraping and improvisation. Successfully integrated, these different paths will converge in a space that allows a mediated dialogue between us and other lifeforms in both our physical and digital environments. At a time when undiscovered species of plants and animals are disappearing at alarming rates, we need more than ever to re-evaluate our relationships with and impacts upon our environment so that a possible future might see us the shepherds of a golden age, not the heralds of an earthly apocalypse.
Possible Outcomes and Future Directions
EIGATP is the first installment of what I plan to be a large body of works that explore plant intelligence and its influence on human culture and consciousness. This particular project could even be expanded to different locations, with each location serving as a node in a larger dialogue, allowing information to flow not just between the humans / plants / machines in one local installation, but across all nodes. I have an extensive primary network in the arts that spans across Europe and North America with a secondary network that includes Asia and South America. Future iterations of the work could find homes at various cultural, artistic and scientific venues around the globe.
EIGATP focuses specifically on those sacred plants revered for their mind-altering effects, but I am interested in studying plant intelligence and human-plant interactions on many other levels. Ask anyone who has lived with a large number of plants and they will tell you that it improves their quality of life. And I plan to ask. I am beginning to research different locations around South and Central America where I can go to have a direct dialogue with cultures that still hold plants to be sacred. I also plan to make ethnobotanical investigations a significant portion of my trip to Iceland in July and August, 2013. I expect that these field excursions will enrich existing interests and lead to entirely new ones. Even if one is skeptical of the idea of plant intelligences, the fact is that plants breathe in what we breathe out and breathe out what we breathe in. Without them we have no breath and with no breath, what is left?
Whatever the particular manifestation, the hope for all of these works, as I have discussed briefly in preceding pages, is to engender a stronger connection between people and their environment. One thing I learned in presenting Signature Sound is that the very act of positing that something holds sacred or mystical power can create an experience of the sacred and mystical in participants. Perhaps if we can, as a race, shift our reverence from the intangible icons of religion to the tangible elements of the world around us, we will start holding our world more sacred. It is hard to convey to people who have never been to a jungle how astounding and profound the biodiversity is through words or pictures, but for many, the moment they enter the jungle themselves, nothing needs to be said. It is quite simply understood. Yet not everyone can enter the jungle directly. For some, simulation is the only viable option. So the question for me is, How do we make our simulations more capable of simulating primary experience? How do we bypass the boundaries of language and the cynicism that makes things like the discovery that whales sing or that cicadas live underground for 17 years before emerging for a few grand weeks seem anything less than profound? Here I return to David Dunn. By using technology that makes the invisible and inaudible available to our perception, Dunn changed the way that a large group of entomologists and ecologists viewed the pine beetle epidemic. Perhaps by creating a sacred space and treating it as one, and by creating a tangible result from the imperceptible interactions between us and plants, a few people will come away holding plants more sacred. If even this little comes of the project, I would consider it a great success.
Aside from the grander consciousness shifting goals, there are other things that could come of this project that have the possibility to make contributions to a variety of fields. For botany, the development of low cost sensor networks for monitoring the metabolic and transpirational behavior of plants could be a significant boon. For the communities of artists working with Max/MSP/Jitter, many of the modules created for this project could become a part of the collective toolkit. As a complexity engine, the underlying software could also be used for a variety of other simulations, both aesthetic and pragmatic in application.
However grand these goals might seem to me or to anyone else, we are here for such a short time, why not try for something grand?
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This list is incomplete and will be fleshed out before final submission to thesis advisor, no later than the end of the Fall '12 Quarter.