Dissemination and Future Forecasts for Everything is Going According to Plants.
Everything is Going According to Plants (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. Expanding the project to different geographical and cultural locations provides an opportunity to increase intercultural and continental awareness of the sacred plants of other cultures. In addition to the artistic and contemplative function that EIGATP could serve, there are also more pragmatic tangible outcomes that could be disseminated to relevant interest groups.
For the Denver node of EIGATP, I am looking at the Botanic Gardens as the number one choice for a venue. There are several factors that make the DBG an ideal candidate. First, the mission of the gardens to bring awareness of botanical specimens to the public is entirely sympathetic to the goals of the project. Second, the access to botanists and other botanical resources would be a great boon to the project. Third, situating the project within the context of of the DBG as opposed to a gallery environment automatically foregrounds the critical dialogue that is being raised in EIGATP, giving access to more than just the art world crowd and keeping the focus where it belongs, on the plants. Fourth, as an umbrella organization they would increase my access to some of the rarer or more legally problematic specimens. Finally, as a launching point from which to approach other research institutions and cultural locations around the world, it provides a different kind of reference and legitimacy than more traditional arts venues. Additional national venues I will be considering for future nodes are: Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, London; Hortus Botanicus Leiden, NL; Arnold Arboretum, Harvard; UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley; and any of the offices or centers of the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC); the Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway (Spitsbergen); and many others.
Regarding future versions of the project, I think there a number of areas that have the potential to be expanded and incorporated. 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. It could be incredible to have nodes in high-mountain and lowland deserts, rainforests, arid expanses and arctic landscapes. I expect that these field excursions will enrich existing interests and lead to entirely new ones. It is hard not to imagine being influenced by the prominent and widespread belief in magic and elves in Iceland or the millennia old knowledge of plants in the Amazon. 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? An entire series of installations could be done that focus on the most mundane and widely propagated plants, recasting them in an intentional environment that makes us question the way we see them and use them in our lives.
In terms of venues, I am interested in exploring not only different physical venues, but also virtual portals into the work. Iphone/Android apps could let you monitor the physical or virtual space or even interact with the plants remotely, providing a psychic presence for those who cannot physically visit the space or who want to continue the dialogue after their visits. One could view the virtual forms, plants, or even entire space, complete with human-plant interactions, or listen to a stream of the live plant songs. The data collections could be posted as an archive, available for others to interpret visually or sonically in works that could expand on the EIGATP dialogue. There could even be a special net-based version that is only interacted with over the waves, questioning the necessity of direct spatial proximity for meaningful human-plant communication.
Beyond providing what I envision as a peak aesthetic and inter-species phenomenological experience, there are more pragmatic outcomes that have the potential to feed into the public good. One area that I think EIGATP could make a significant contribution to is plant sensing. A central part of the project is the creation of a low-cost and easily DIY-able mesh sensor network. The non-invasive (or minimally invasive) sensors will monitor everything from phloem to nutrient uptake, transpiration rates and composition, to soil moisture, turgor pressure, and rates of growth. If this proves to be successful, the plans for the creation and implementation could be made available to the public and allow easier than ever access to otherwise invisible plant processes. For botanist this could lead to new areas of significant research. Another outcome would be the development and release of a number of Max based modules for data collection, visualization and sonification on the one hand and evolution, mimesis, and agent based behaviors on the other. 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.
Every aspect of this project has significant budgetary requirements, some of which will likely come out of pocket, with others hopefully covered by grants. In a recent discussion with a mentor it was suggested that I consider KickStarter as a possible source of funding. In reflecting on this, I think that subsets such as the mesh sensor network, the sacred garden, or even the entire project could be proposed. Incentives for the sensor kit would be anything from a sensor at the low end to the full package of sensors bundles with a parsing patch. For the garden, it might be plant clippings from the specimens used in the space, state and national laws in consideration, seeds, or ritual artifacts. For the installation, private garden events, limited edition DVD's of documentation, or real-time access to live data feeds. In addition to generating a funding base, this would also be a significant PR initiative that could generate interest well before the exhibition. It would also be a valuable negotiating piece in approaching additional venues.
Whatever the particular manifestation, the hope for all of these works 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.
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?