Upskilling in the art of conversation, with plants

Research period (February and April 2013) for and an investigation into content, form, and methodology.

Transcontinental Garden Exchange is the umbrella title of a research project and investigation into plant sentience, and series of experiments in communication between homosapiens & flora that will build to a united act of gardening across countries and time zones. A floriligeum remix to highlight how our green friends have seeded changes in our own social history and behaviour.


History of plant life has direct correlations with human development, social history and behaviour including evolutionary biology, ethnobotany and social and political behaviour.

Given the significant symbiosis humans have with plant life it’s surprising that scientific research in this area is only just beginning to evolve in recent years (comparative to the speed and depth of other scientific disciplines). However botany was only established or recognised as a formal science in the 1800’s. In the past 10 years more scientific research, information and evidence is emerging on plant physiology, adaptive behaviour and signalling, and new strands of specialist research have been established such as plant neurobiology.

I’ve been intrigued by the way gardeners often anthropomorphise plants to rationalise successful gardening methodologies and one of these manifestations - the common compulsion and practice of people talking to plants due to its perceived benefits in improvement in plant health. Also by the phenomenon where people experience endorphin increase whilst and after gardening.

Although the affect of human acoustics and attention on plants is considered a pseudoscience. I’m interested in the relationship between current empirical evidence of plant signalling and adaptive behaviour and the folklore of practices such as talking to plants.

The idea of the evolution of “science” in itself is a point of interest - in that over time it often disproves itself. More relevant to this project, with regard to recent ‘discoveries’ in plant signalling, that may give evidence to human intuitive knowledge or information regarded as myth. Meanwhile I have been working in arts organisations where cultural understanding and reconciliation has been a focus in human to human communication but no attention given to the physical environment or landscape which also plays a role to communicate these intentions or the parallels that might be taking place in plant cultivation in the same context.

The line of enquiry I am following essentially proposes that recent scientific research into plant signalling may in time lead to scientific evidence to support ancient human intuition and knowledge of human – plant relationships. At the same time the research aims to highlight human/plant relationships in social behaviour and comment on cultural metaphors in human arts such as gardening.

To do this the project aims to mix differing discipline approaches to create an eclectic story and group actions/experiences. In so doing, it aims to bring together people from different disciplines (or non-disciplines) to reflect on and pool knowledge on plant signalling and human / plant communicative relationships.

Specifically my current research springs from the more recent (17th C onward) history of women’s relationship with plants and its relationship with socio-political action for the rights of women (education, professional, sexual and more). In the context that 17th Century western women were criticised for expressing sexuality and reproductive knowledge through botany and botanical art.

I'm fascinated that artforms that we could consider benign today were considered dangerous in their own context. In a similar way botany and gardening are often considered benign yet carry such dangerous cultural, scientific and economic agendas.

One of the questions that the project asks is: What is dangerous for women to say through plants today?


Expected outcomes of the longer term research is to create a live performance installation with a realtime conversation between humans and plants in two or more locations. To engage audiences from all walks of life for this event. To find alternate languages to bring the knowledge of plant signalling to the non-scientific world. To allow space for alternate ways of thinking through natural phenomenon to reflect on human social and political behaviour including our experience of time and change action. To reflect on alternate narratives of the role of humans in the plantae world. To bring scientists, non-scientists, artists and non-artists together in conversation on these concepts. For the research period at to gain more background knowledge of trans-discipline approaches to the concepts across strands of the project.


Having come to in the dead of winter whilst the collective was on holiday or working in warmer climes, I took advantage of the library here and the space to think.

General research was across discipline and form (literary, video, url, human conversation). Meet with artists/scientists working with plants: Bartaku… Collect personal histories of people and plants: Maja Kuzmanovic… Research on various human plant relationships in history: Herbalism, Symbology… Research overview in plant signalling: acoustic, chemical, gestural… Research into human perception: Scent, taste, touch, auditory…

Devise a structure to help shape or give some focus to the wide range in the enquiry Devising lo-fi tactile experiences for humans to perceive plant signalling and give or receive signals: Edible Perfumes, Chlorophyll Printing Devising artistic material or environments for humans to assist an understanding of possible relationship futures:


Information research Sensory Plant signalling Human perception and the senses

Artistic research – self proposed Finding a structure for approach – The Art of ConversationItalic Text

Establishing common gound – what are our shared histories and identities? Evolutionary, social and personal. Empathy Forms and styles of communication: language, senses, gesture, neurons How humans can give and receive (or perceive) alternative signals: perceiving the imperceptable, amplification of scale Translation of signals: encoding, decoding, recoding The content of the exchange

Historic Humans and the early use of intuition, trial and error in establishing the roles of plants as friend or foe. Symbology of specific plants based on the Doctrine of Association The shift of human dominating sense from scent to sight over time through the age of enlightenment and its parallels with changes in ecological relationship. The role of women in the advancement of the science of botany through the 17th and 18th Centuries in Western Europe and the United Kingdom. The role of plants as women’s status and expression advanced - including sexual education and expression through botanic watercolours and poetry through 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries in Western Europe and the United Kingdom.

Practical Chlorophyl printing on leaves The mirror box for finding a physical experience of empathy for humans Edible perfumes - a human translation of volatile molecular signalling Altering human perception of time and the anthropocentric inner monologue: Continuation practice ( of creating audio meditations for the luminous green to infiltrate the human mind.

Document Werkweek Ecologie - Urban Ikebana Document Tree Identity Walk -

Post Presentation Discussion Suggestion to read the Botany of Desire regarding the alternative view that humans are in the control of plants in the same ways as other pollinators such as insects, birds and marsupials.

Chlorophyl printing – needs more controlled environment – specific stronger lights (red and blue colour specific) – suggest research details from hydroponic specialists; and more visibly responsive leaves – specific plants have higher visible chlorophyll activity level.

Mirror box set up needs uniform colour and texture matching for the box and the table it sits on. Requires human physical interaction to stimulate touch for the particpant’s brain to associate touch with an alternative (inanimate) limb. Further discussion at Neuroscience Week in London suggested that to substitute a virtual limb that is not already present in the box will require very incremental blending with a live feed image of the participants limb until it is totally replaced. There is data available on time increments relating to other visual therapies.

Reference artists Ackroyd and Harvey (UK) who work with chlorophyl printing on grass on a large scale.

Future The research continues in 2013 with attendance at meet up with Genspace Bio hackers and Observatory Gallery curators in Austin Texas USA, a Slime Mould workshop by Heather Barnett in March 2013 New York, the Plant Signalling Conference July 2013 in Vancouver, research of 17th-18thC botany texts at the Wellcome Library in London, residencies at Point B in New York, symbioticA in Perth Western Australia, and with artist collaborators at Bundanon Trust NSW.

Post residency outcomes



URL's (eclectic)

Female Botanist/Naturalists

Other related to women and botany


Science journalism and related

Acoustic Leaves

Plants use Clicking Sounds

Plants in Motion DIY

How the first plant evolved

Pea Aphid uses Photosynthesis

Sagebrush Self Recognition

Intro to Cyanobacterium

Soil MEssages

Insects Use Plants as a Telephone

Leaf images

Light Induced Chloroplast motion

Scent Delivery System


Projects and Artists

Data Garden

GrensWerte | Media Art Garden

Ackroyd and Harvey

Bio Poetry

Carol Flueckiger

How to Make Leaf Skeletons

Jyll Bradley

Helena Goldwater

Radio Mycelium Project


Simon Park

Amy Young

Eyes as Big A Plates

Natalie Jeremijenko

Forest Symphony


Leaf Print Photography

Cirque d’Ici Johann Guillerm - Circus performer who has created La Motte a (slow) moving grass/weed sculpture and


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