in/terminus speakers series … Moving plants: toward an aesthetics of phytodynamics

A ‘plant’ is generally regarded as a biological entity that is rooted to a particular location – an interesting coincidence of etymology and existential condition. This idea of a biological entity that is fixed to a particular place and (therefore?) lacking in sensitivity, inherited from Aristotelian biology, continues to have a stranglehold on our understanding of a plant. While Anaxagoras, Empedocles and even Plato accorded sensitivity to plants, Aristotle and his strict distinction of animals from plants by way of one’s capacity to move and the lack thereof in another, ensured that the botanical and related cultural discourses rarely discussed the sensitivity of plants seriously. The history of botany however is also riddled with experiments and observations on plant mobility and sensitivity that have systematically explained away such evidence as ‘involuntary’, ‘inconsequential’ and/or ‘anomalous’. This lecture will provide a genealogical account of this erasure through an annotated survey of the history of botany highlighting the work of John Ray and Charles Darwin. This is followed by a focused discussion of botanists and scientists whose work has explored the neglected field of ‘phytodynamics’, the study of plant sensitivity and movement, specifically the work of Jagadis Chandra Bose, Kliment Timiryazev and Cleve Backster. It will be shown that this ‘undercurrent’ in botanical discourse has been revived and expanded in the works of artists / inventors including the pioneering work on plant music by Robert Lowenberg and Tom Zahuranec, the more recent media art works by Eduardo Kac, Masaki Fujihata and others as well as in a variety of contemporary techno-botanical products. It is proposed that the artistic investigations in / of phytodynamics problematize and qualitatively expand the category of plant vis a vis animal / human and machine.

Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. in rm. 1102 of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation:


map - Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation

Gunalan Nadarajan, an art theorist and curator working at the intersections of art, science and technology, is dean of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, at the University of Michigan.

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