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On trying to understand life as Plant

Conference contribution
Authors Dawn Sanders
Published in SLSA2017, 9-12 November in Tempe, Arizona, USA
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies
Language en
Keywords Art Environmental Studies Narrative plants Temporality
Subject categories Arts, Biological Sciences, Educational Sciences


Plants live in a different time zone to mammalian life. Consequently, they can appear still, silent and passive to human perception. This is dependent on the cultural environment in which plants live and their associated narratives. In contemporary city life the complex morphologies and behaviours plants possess are often reduced to simple contextualised categories such as “house-plant”, “street-tree,” and “food”. These categories speak nothing of the contributions plants make to the ecological fabric of life on Earth; neither do they acknowledge the complex and socio-biological systems within which they exist. In this presentation we consider these perceptual blank spots in relation to an interdisciplinary research project in which artistic, scientific and didactic narratives coalesce in order to represent plants through new ways. In particular, scale-jumping biographies are used to visually foreground the structures of seeds over their adult form with their human collectors stories placed as a footnote. In the same room the growing form of the seed is present; the viewer makes the connection through the plant labels, thus actively enacting textual connections between represented and living forms of the seeds they meet on the wall of the gallery. In another installation, one specific seed- Stipa pennata- is made large only to vanish in a richly coloured meadow in the next installation. Thus, reproductive structure and adaption are made public, and specific, in one context whilst the plant’s competitive struggle amongst many, sometimes blurred, plant forms is in focus in another.

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