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OUT OF SYNC.

thoughts on human-plant relations


OUT OF SYNC. thoughts on human-plant relations FINAL THESIS Technische Hochschule Köln Fakultät fur Kulturwissenschaften Köln Interntional School of Design Prof. Lasse Scherffig Interaction Design Konstfack Stockholm Industrial Design Department Prof. Martin Avila Design Research Franziska Bax Bachelor of Arts in European Studies in Design submitted: 17.04.2019


“To get in touch with the existence of plants one must acquire a taste for the concealed and the withdrawn, including the various meanings of the existence that are equally elusive and inexhaustible.� (Marder 2013, 28)


/ a note The thoughts and concepts of this thesis are concerning a topic that needs to be discussed and elaborated with as many perspectives as possible. I hereby try to raise this discussion and invite you to join questioning the thoughts gathered and established throughout this thesis as well as thoughts deeply rooted in our intellectual tradition.


/ objective A collection of thoughts and perspectives on human-plant relations. Drawing attention to human colored perception and the resulting challenges of relating to and interacting with an other.


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INTRO

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ON PLANT

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AN ENCOUNTER WITH OTHERNESS

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ON HUMAN

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background structure aim an explanation of the title definitions

the intangible plant

error epistemological error scientific tradition and the emergence of a reductive perception linguistic error wording images wording worlds wording perceptions a word and a thing

tying together modes of perception modes of projection free

FROM AN OTHER TO ANOTHER

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RECAP

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ANOTHER

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confronting error goethinan phenomenology and a holistic practice of sciense paradigm shift ecological thought ecological literacy deep ecology

out of sync. interview with emanuele coccia speed and movement cosmic


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ON DESIGN

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design as a tool for wording and worlding a comment on interaction design plants and interaction design making tangible through design the interactive plant growing nanomagnetic plants humanized vibrating pine humanized moss a thought interaction in sync root bridges – meghalaya, india a gardeners perspective the planetary garden the garden in motion sketching the atmosphere on a natural performance unhide a cosmic sketch a thought in sync.

MAKING TANGIBLE

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AN EXHIBITION

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LAST WORDS

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REFERENCES AND DECLARATION OF AUTHORSHP

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a metaphorical installation without plants a random encounter input – output the set-up the hardware the code an example with LEDs same same but different on otherness fragility, connectedness, cosmic encountering otherness

an exhibition catalogue


INTRO

/ background The reason why I wrote this thesis is a very personal one. Ecology and our behaviour in the world has always been an interest of mine: like many others, I try to live my life as environmentally friendly as possible. With this approach comes a lot of frustration, when it becomes more and more visible how deeply intertwined the world is, we constructed with an anti-ecological behaviour – mass production, consumerism, capitalism and suppression – just to name a few. Last year in February was the first time ecology became a major part of my work as a designer. Within a cooperation project with Nature & Decouvertes, the brief was to create innovative and sustainable products that reconnect humans to nature. I started my research and came to see the brief as very contradictory in itself. As Nature & Decouvertes is a French store, selling products around the topics of well-being, the project was commercially motivated. Of course, they had the approach to create sustainable products, but I questioned, if a new product can really be the answer for us to approximate nature again. The brief was not only about reconnecting humans with nature, but specifically to design products that include plants in homes and garden and therefore bring nature back into what they referred to as our mostly artificial environments. This is how I started encountering plant life. I found myself with the task to design a product, that I didn’t really wanted to design while facing the challenge of including a being in my design process, that I didn’t really knew anything about. Since this project, plants and their form of being didn’t really let me go. I was constantly seeing them, included in our environments, assembled, made part of architecture and our cities. I saw design projects that made plants part of installations or used them as a material with a more and more critical eye. My interest was also drawn towards projects that tried to establish an interaction with plants through e.g. translating their electric potential to soundscapes or turning the scents they emit – to communicate with other plants or insects – into perfumes perceptible for us. I liked the thought that this would clear up the mysteries around plant life, making us understand more and through that, be able to approximate plant life. But I was always left

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INTRO

with the notion, with the concern that we still know very little, especially about the bigger coherences. What if the beautiful perfumes created from the same scent molecules used by plants to communicate have an influence on the insects which naturally react to these scents? Within the comparable small-scale design projects, I worked this topic of interrelations, I was always left with the feeling that I am only seeing the parts of a network in isolation. When choosing a specific plant for a project I would automatically make this plant priority, which could lead to a preference of this plant towards others. I came to the conclusion that we have to be extremely careful when designing for and with other species. Furthermore, the question am up how to design for, in the best case, with something, you are not and will never be fully capable of understanding. My focus shifted from designing interactions with plants towards the limits of our perception and how these manipulate and influence possible interactions. Plants are probably the most controversial living beings seen from a metaphysical and phenomenological perspective. The enigma and the otherness that comes with their existence and how we approach that, only contributed to the difficulties of an interaction: we only see the little parts we are able to perceive, and what we don’t know or understand is mostly either based on assumptions, complemented by things we know or neglected. The aim of this thesis is therefore not a full understanding of the plant world, but a shift of perspective towards a state of mind that accepts otherness and acknowledges the limits of human perception or as Heidegger put it: “to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself� (1962, p. 58 ).

/ structure As established, this thesis is focussed on the exploration of otherness regarding plants and how that challenges our current way we are relating to them. Humans decide with a matter of course about other species and tend to think that we are in control. We create a position for ourselves in the environment and with it a whole system, that is preferring us as a species. This system is mostly neglecting the importance of other species, which makes it even more difficult to integrate them, in this case plants, in the current design practice. Also it is a very reductive reflection of the complex

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network that connects us with plants as well as with the environment in general. In order to first develop an understanding of how this believe system has been established, the first part of this thesis is about the intellectual traditions that lead to the current world view. The questions that are to be answered are, how prevalent western thinking, ignoring the interconnections of beings, reducing the earths systems to seeing its parts in isolation, leads to where we are now: a practice and a way of inhabiting this world that is highly anti-ecological; an ecological era named after us – the Anthropocene – as we are a major ecological factor altering the earths systems and the failure of seeing the world and other species as they are. Based on that, the attention then shifts to the use of language and how it is coloring our perception and therefore also contributing to a reductive perception of others and the difficulties relating to them. The objective is to discuss, how, through the use of language, we construct abstract concepts, images, worlds and perceptions that do not give space for plant life to be perceived as it is. In order to open up towards an alternative way of relating to plants, the focus then shifts towards perspectives and thoughts that are more open towards otherness. Goethe’s thoughts on science as well as more recent contributions are introduced. Focusing not only on definitions and calculations, measurements and facts, these perspectives aim towards a more inclusive and holistic approach that is discussed to inspire possible ways to interact with plants. After a small recap and a gathering of thoughts, Plants and their form of being will then be introduced based on the philosophers Emanuele Coccia and Michael Marder. This discussion will focus on movement and the interaction of plants with their environment, as also the following design explorations focus on these entry points to plant life. Design, specifically interaction design, will then be introduced in order to broaden the perspectives from thoughts and concepts to experiences. Design experiments are used as a tool to mediate relations, to visualize, critically question and to shift perspective to other possible ways of relating

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INTRO

to plants. Next to my own experiments, examples from design research and classic interaction design will be taken into account in order to broaden the possible ways design can be used to approach such a vast topic. Thereby, all experiments and presented projects relate to the otherness surrounding plant life, ranging from critical examples and experiments, to propositions and a metaphorical interactive experiment.

aim / As the relations of humans and plants is far more complex than this thesis is able to reflect on, this work has to be seen as an introduction and an exploration of the landscape of perspectives and knowledge connected to it. It is not aiming towards a solution or the approach of a specific problem, but the opening up of thoughts. The shared perspectives and thoughts are to be seen as poking starting points towards the acceptance of otherness which will be gathered in a small exhibition. Through approaching the topic from different angles, this thesis wants to open up discussions and critical reflections.

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/ an explanation of the title What we most likely think of first when hearing the term relation is the connection of two humans on an emotional or genetic level. Relation is as well describing the connection between things, their influence or dependence on each other. To establish the understanding of relation I will be using in this thesis, I will adduce the German translations and its more nuanced meanings. In German relation in terms of human relations would be translated to Beziehung. That describes a very much defined and – according to the cultural norms – monogamous relationship. A Beziehung can also describe the relation between a human and an object or amongst only objects. If the term is used in that sense, it in most cases not about an emotional connection, but concerns the spatial relations describing the positioning in space, the influences the parts have on each other, size, measurements, e.g. Another word that is used in the German language meaning relation is Verhältnis. In terms of a relation between two people, Verhältnis describes in colloquial language a more open, mostly sexual connection over a longer period of time, which might be kept secret and is more a bodily then an emotional link between two people. The word Verhältnis can also be used to compare something or describe contrasts or similarities between things. A comparison using Verhältnis instead of Beziehung concentrates more on the relations between the parts of an object itself more than on the relations between several objects. It can describe a measurement of something in comparison to something else. A third meaning of Verhältnis describes the external circumstances or determined elements of a condition. This meaning could also be translated as Zusammenhang, a word which describes the inner relations and the connections in processes, occurences and situations. In this thesis however I am using and understanding the word relation in the sense of Verhältnis and Zusammenhang, describing the external circumstances, the condition and the determined elements, the relations within structures. Regarding humans and plants I thereby mean the conditions that lead to the current perception of plant life, the factors that developed into our current perspectives, traits of thought and the physical and metaphysical image of plants which is thus predominant in our culture. Through researching the philosophical backgrounds, the influence of science and also in some aspects the influence of language, I intend to draw attention to the construction, the elements and the determined factors that lead to these very images.

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INTRO

The current way of relating is to be questioned and new ways of relating are to be established. However I also chose the word relation for its poking connotation with intimate human relations as I am intending to discuss a perspective which is as open towards other form of life as it would be towards other humans.

definitions / [linguistic error]

As mentioned, the language we use, creates images that influence our way of thinking. In the following I will therefore discuss the most common terms, which are currently used to relate to other species – including plants. I will then establish new terms that reflect on the linguistic influence. Human – one that is counted as a member of the human species. Non-human – one that is not counted as a member of the human species. This term is not going to be used as my concern with using this term is that “non” could be seen as a negative connotation. That includes an evaluation of the described one and might lead to the perception that a non-human is not as valuable as a human. The second concern is that the determined factors, if the described one can be called human is decided by comparing its features to the features of the human species. The more features the described one has in common, the more likely it is going to be specified as human. More-than-human – one that is not counted as a member of the human species. This term holds the same concerns as the first one with the difference that “more-than” is inducing a connotation which is more likely to be positive and evaluate the described one as more valuable than a member of the human species. The concern with the evaluation of species within a term is, that this is constructing thoughts, which I try to avoid within this thesis. The overall goal is to introduce a thought wherein every species is seen as equal, no matter how many similarities or differences it shares with the human species. The terms used instead will be an other and another. This thesis tries not to

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leave the human perspective – it is obviously a contribution to the discussions of a human perception of the world. The difference is that this terms are used according to this perception and what we perceive as equal. An other describes one that is not evaluated as equal to the human species, another in contrast describes one that is seen as equal. In contrast to non-human or more-than-human the distinction is not established on a comparison to the human species and an evaluation of similar features, but on what the described one is seen as from a human point of view. It unhides the fact that humans tend to project what they know to other forms of being and valuate similarities more than features that are elusive. Referring to other species as an other and another acknowledges this way of thinking and draws attention to the glasses that we wear while relating to the surrounding world.

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ON PLANT

/ the intangible plant Referring to our perception of plants, Michael Marder uses the words “Metaphysical allergy of western philosophy [towards the] […] complexity of plant life” (Marder 2015), when introducing his theories. Emanuele Coccia is introducing his thoughts in a similar way: “Plants are the always open wound of the metaphysical snobbery that defines our culture. The return of the repressed, of which we must rid ourselves in order to consider ourselves as “different”: rational humans, spiritual beings. They are the cosmic tumor of humanism, the waste that the absolute spirit can’t quite manage to eliminate.” (Coccia 2018, p. 3) Apparently, plants occupy a special position when we talk about other living species. Ongoing discussion if plants are alive, if they have a dignity and if they feel, connect and share as animals do, reflect on that. Both – Coccia and Marder – referring to a metaphysical problem in connection to plant life, reveal that their form of being comes with an enigma difficult for us to grasp, understand and classify. The decision of concentrating my research on plant life is based on precisely this controversy around their form of being as it holds many opportunities to challenge our current anthropocentric perspective. To begin with, metaphysics is the branch of philosophy which is dealing with the underlying concepts of foundation, causes, structures and purposes of the veritableness (Stangl 2019). The word metaphysics was first used by an editor of Aristotles works. He named a collection of fourteen books Ta Meta Ta Phusika – the after the physical, describing a range of books that came after “the physical ones”, the books we now know as Aristotles physics. Metaphysics, defined from the very early meaning, is therefore the branch of philosophy discussing questions regarding everything beyond what is physically there. Both Marder and Coccia, are stating a metaphysical problem when it comes to plants. Both refer to plants as a kind of being that is from a metaphysical perspective very difficult to grasp. Both use terms as “metaphysical allergy” (Marder 2015) or “open wound of […] metaphysical snobbery” (Coccia 2018, p.3):

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ON PLANT

plants are so different that we are apparently not able to explain their form of life. That leads to what both refer to as a gap in the metaphysical explanation of the surrounding world: “[…] the plant seems to muddle conceptual distinctions and to defy all established indexes for discerning different classes of beings in keeping with the metaphysical logic […]” (Marder 2013, p. 28). Both, Coccia and Marder believe that the otherness of plants leads to their neglection from philosophy and resulting also in our general believe system. Coccia is continuing this thought. He states that for us humans it is by far easier to relate to other animals than to plants. This, inter alia, leads to an evaluation which is widely accepted: “It seems that no one ever wanted to question the superiority of animal life over plant life […]” (Coccia 2018, p. 4). Marder continues this thought and connects the value we address to plants and their presence and position in western culture: There is a “connection between the philosophical believe that plants are the least of the living beings [and] the[ir] cultural rejection” (Marder 2015). This perspective is spread in our current western thinking, in philosophy and in science and only a few contributions open up towards a more inclusive and holistic thought (cf. Coccia 2018: notes to chapter 1, page 123-125). For our human way of perceiving this world, wherein we make sense through palpating unknown things, unconsciously comparing them with what we already know leaving little space for the unknown and elusive, plants are not easily put into a category and are therefore hardly tangible on a metaphysical level. Exactly this is what makes them interesting for this thesis: as the aim is to establish a thought which is inclusive towards other species no matter how different they are, it is the biggest challenge, but also the most interesting one to start with plant life. Imposed to insoluble problems of categorizing, plants are a form of being that is highly elusive, but present in almost every environment – always there, but not fully graspable. The only way of shifting our current anthropocentric perspective towards an inclusive one is to accept otherness and species no matter how many metaphysical and epistemological enigmas surround their existence.

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the intangible plant

The following lyrical essay “Natur” written by the Swiss theologian Christoph Tobler and firstly published by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe 1783 in the Tiefurter Journal is not directly about plants, but about nature in general. Nevertheless, it sums up the thought I am developing very well. „Natur! Wir sind von ihr umgeben und umschlungen – unvermögend aus ihr herauszutreten, und unvermögend tiefer in sie hineinzukommen. Ungebeten und ungewarnt nimmt sie uns in den Kreislauf ihres Tanzes auf und treibt sich mit uns fort, bis wir ermüdet sind und ihrem Arme entfallen. Sie schafft ewig neue Gestalten, was da ist, war noch nie, was war, kommt nicht wieder – alles ist neu, und doch immer das Alte. Wir leben mitten in ihr und sind ihr fremde. Sie spricht unaufhörlich mit uns und verrät uns ihr Geheimnis nicht. Wir wirken beständig auf sie und haben doch keine Gewalt über sie.“ (Tobler

1783)

Especially in this part the developed thought is very clear: „We live in her midst and know her not. She is incessantly speaking to us, but betrays not her secret. We constantly act upon her, and yet have no power over her” (Tobler, 1869).

Nature and especially plant life is always present as a part of almost every environment and we interact with it on a daily basis. But this interaction is mostly left in the unconscious as we are not aware of most relations. They only become visible, when for example we carry pollen in form of a burr, blow away the little soft gliders of a dandelion or seed some new plants, watch them grow and harvest their fruits. But there are so much more relations that we do not notice, interconnection we are not able to perceive. Between plants and other plants, between plants and animal and also between plants and us. In the beginning of my research, I found myself trapped in what is probably a very human wish - to bridge this gap. To build a translation between humans in plants on order to make it possible for us to understand more. I overlooked that already the attempts to establish an understanding based on understanding is a very human-motivated act and if it would have worked, it would have failed in itself. When I realized that, I shifted my attention to the elusive parts of plant life and their mysterious being and tried to stay with

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[modes of projection]


AN ENCOUNTER WITH OTHERNESS

As established in the previous chapter, a new kind of thought is necessary. I therefore would like to introduce the term of idontknowness which describes a concept developed throughout my process: encountering otherness is a concept, a state of mind wherein one accepts the fact that there are beings that are not and will never be fully experiencable, explainable and understandable from a human perspective. In this state of mind, it is not the overall aim to find explanations and reason in others, but rather appreciate their otherness and find the beauty in this otherness itself. It accepts the fact that we live in a world surrounded primarily by the little amount we understand and see, but also by a majority of world we are not able to grasp. encountering otherness is a central concept in this thesis. The world we see, the world we see in western cultures, the world which is tangible for our physical and mental perception, is rated higher than the worlds hidden from our modes of perception. As the visible world is more present in our culture, the danger is, that we tend to think that we fully understand nature and are able to control it. The current climate crisis is only one of the many occurrences unhiding that this is a misbelief. It is therefore crucial, that we start to see the hidden worlds and value them as much as the world we are able to perceive.

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[modes of perception]


ON HUMAN

/ error This chapter explores the thoughts and traditions that underlie our difficulties to be comfortable with otherness. Otherness will not be discussed in direct relation to plants, but in a broader sense. This is to understand the foundations of our current thought constructions and also to introduce how necessary a shift of perspective is. “Whether or not we are interested in the environment or identify with the concept of being ‘an environmentalist’ each of us is entirely dependent on the air we breathe, the food we eat and the environment we inhabit for life. Despite this basic fact, statements about our connections with nature are often interpreted as platitudinous and widely dismissed. We have inherited a highly reductive intellectual tradition and anti-ecological world-view in profound denial of our fundamental interdependence with nature. We are embedded within non-human nature and dependent on ecological systems for life, but our belief systems do not reflect this basic relationship. Consequently, the world we have designed is deeply unsustainable.” (Boehnert 2018, p. 1)

The argumentation of Joana Boehnert follows up on the described distinction of our human and an other world. She shares the thought that our worldview does not reflect the complexity and denseness of the world surrounding us. The problem is not only the overlooking of other forms of being within our natural surroundings, but according to her, especially the ignorance of the interdependence that connects us. Also the ecological theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos claims that our current perspective is divisive and therefore reductive. He calls it abyssal thinking: “Modern western thinking is an abyssal thinking. It consists of a system of visible and invisible ones. The invisible distinctions are established through radical lines that divide social reality into two realms, the realm of “this side of the line” and the realm of “the other side of the line.” The division is such that “the other side of the line” vanishes as reality, becomes non-existent, and is indeed produced as non-existent. Non-existent means not existing in any relevant or comprehensible way of being. Whatever is produced as non-existent is radically excluded because it lies beyond the real, of what the accepted conception of inclusion considers to be its other. What most

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fundamentally characterizes abyssal thinking it thus the impossibility of the copresence of the two sided of the line. To the extent that it prevails, this side of the line only prevails by exhausting the field of relevant reality. Beyond it, there is only nonexistence, invisibility, nondialectial absence.” (de Sousa Santos 2007, p. 45)

De Sousa Santos makes the point very clear: Modern western thinking distinguishes between two worlds wherein the world we know is seen and the world of everything hidden from our perspective – like a plants form of being – is not seen and neglected. This current reductive anthropocentric perspective is not only leading to a poor reflection of reality, but it is also highly anti-ecological. In order to deepen the understanding, I will further outline the term epistemological error and introduce a thought establishing a connection between the language we use and our perspective on plants.

epistemological error // In order to discuss and introduce a new thought, which is a better reflection of the complexity of the world we live in and the interconnections of all its inhabitants, an understanding of the current situation is necessary: What made us create this erroneous tradition and what lead to the perspective and thought we currently support in in most western cultures? Further in her research, Joana Boehnert introduces Gregory Batesons concept of epistemological error, developed in 1972 and links it to the non-functionality of our current intellectual system (cf. Boehnert 2018, p. 63). Batesons states in his concept that the dysfunction originates from thought patterns and traditions that do not match how the world actually works. More specifically, when our map of reality is a poor reflection of the reality itself and if we, in addition, do not notice that our concepts are wrong, a fragmented and brittle thought system, doomed to collapse, is created. Based on Bateson, Boehnert draws a connection between the current reductive perspective and the western intellectual tradition: “It is not that we innately cannot deal with interconnections and interdependence, but that this reality is effective-

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ly hidden by the complexity of contemporary conditions and our inadequate epistemological tradition.” (Boehnert 2018: 62). Also Irwin, Tonkinwise and Kossoff reflect on the current perception of the world as a reason for e.g. the ecological crisis based on Fritjof Capra: “Living in and through transitional times requires a new way of ‘being’ in the world. Environmentalist and physicist Fritjof Capra has argued that the myriad problems confronting society in the 21st century are interconnected and interrelated and can be traced to a single root problem which is a ‘crisis in perception.’ He defines this crisis in perception as a mechanistic, reductionist world-view, inadequate for understanding the nature of complex systems. A shift to a more holistic/ecological world-view is [therefore] one of the most powerful leverage points […]” (Irwin, Tonkinwise, Kossoff 2015: 19). Consequently, the human perception and its colouring through the western intellectual tradition contribute to the reductive perspective on other forms of life. What is left to ask is, how this reductive perception of our environment came to be.

/// scientific tradition and the emergence of a reductive perception “Our world is in crisis, and, regrettably, our way of doing science in the West has inadvertently contributed to the many problems we face” (Harding 2006, p. 21). Especially traditional western philosophy and its theories lead to a perspective on nature that allowed and still allows its exploitation without any ethical constraints. The emergence of this tradition dates back to the Scientific Revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth century (cf. Boehnert 2018: 51). Nature was seen as “a mechanism whose elements can be dissembled and then put back together” (Santos quoted in ibid.). This perspective on the world had “an ontology that emphasized a mechanistic cosmology, which was primarily determinist, and materialist; and an epistemology that was objectivist, positivist, reductive and dualist” (Sterling quoted in ibid.). A conceptual mind-set, that objectifies our natural environment, reduces its complexity and its interdependences and justifies its exploitation, was thereby constructed.

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The emergence of this thought dates back to the scientific revolution. Where the “separation of nature in western culture was greatly intensified” (Harding 2006, p. 31). Mathematics and calculable, measurable methods became the primary source of knowledge for science. Galileo Galilee for example “believed that reliable knowledge resided in quantities, so nature had to be reduced to numbers if she was to yield her secrets and submit to the controlling influence of the human mind. […] For scientist, mathematics became the language for understanding and controlling nature” (ibid., p. 32). “Francis Bacon, like Galileo, was one of the most important progenitors of the scientific revolution. He called for scientific researchers to “bind” and constrain nature using mechanical inventions so that she “could be forced out of her natural state and squeezed and moulded”, and thereby “ tortured” into revealing her secrets. According to Bacon, nature once enslaved, “takes orders from man and works under his authority”, and is thus put into bondage in order to expand human dominion over the physical universe.” (ibid.). Also “Descartes taught that any entity could be completely understood by studying how its component parts worked in isolation – this was his famous reductionist methodology.” (ibid., p. 32/33). At the same time Newton’s work proofed this mechanist, reductionist perspective on the world: “Newton’s equations stunned his contemporaries with their ability to precisely predict the trajectories of moving bodies […] and seemed to provide final confirmation that the world was indeed no more than a vast machine whose behaviour could be precisely predicted and explained by means of quantification, reductionism and systematic experimentation.” (ibid., p. 33). As Harding makes quite clear, the gains of knowledge during the scientific revolution laid the foundation for the current reductive perspective and the illusion of control of human over nature. Boehnert is sharing this perspective: “The scientific method condenses the complexity of nature by transforming it into measurable data with the assumption that studying the parts is key to understand the whole. The regenerative, qualitative, life-creating capacities of the Earth are taken for granted. The machine metaphor led to quantification biases and illusions of absolute prediction and control. Modernity’s conception of the world is largely based on these preassumptions.” (Boehnert 2018, p. 52). This knowledge-based way of seeing the world contributed to the current reductive intellectual traditions as de Sousa Santos said: “knowledge gains in rigour what it loses in richness” (2007, p. 27).

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scientific tradition

Also Coccia states that Science contributed to this perspective of the humans as a centre of the world and as the crown of creation. This way of not seeing the relations and constructing worlds divided in a human and a natural also lead to their distinction in philosophy: “At this point, it is completely normal for someone who calls him- or herself a philosopher to know the most insignificant events of his or her nation’s historical past, […] forced to study not the world, but the more or less arbitrary images that humans have produced in the past […]” (Coccia 2018, p. 18/19). “By reducing nature to everything that precedes the soul [esprit] [hence, that qualifies as human] and that does not participate in any of its properties, these disciplines have taken it upon themselves to transform nature into a purely residual, oppositional object, one incapable of occupying the position of subject. Nature on this view, is nothing but the empty, incoherent space of all that precedes the emergence of soul and follows the Big Bang, the lightless, wordless night that prevents any reflection and illumination.” (ibid, p. 19/20).

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// linguistic error Not only science influenced and colored our picture of the world, but also our use of language: “Epistemological error is encoded in the language we use […].” (Boehnert 2018, p. 64). Working on this thesis, language was an issue I came across a lot. In the beginning, I introduced distinct definitions of central terms in order to avoid misunderstandings. But not every context allows such a defined definition of used language. Often, referring to plants, words are used that evoke unintended associations leading towards an unintended understanding. Stephan Harding described a similar issue describing his writing process of Animate Earth: “Language is a key aspect of this work […]. This language is still struggling to be born […].” (Harding 2006, p. 43). What he means, is that the language we use is so charged with meaning and context that it is not easy to find a right expression and the right words articulating and discussing perspectives that do not fit in the current western believe system. “As I wrote this book, the unspoken scientific taboo against speaking of the world as a psyche exerted its influence on me and tried its best to make me write nothing more than straightforward popular science. A strange vulnerability, an insecurity, sometimes plagued me as I attempted to speak of the Earth and of the living beings that inhabit not merely as objects, but as subject […]” (Harding 2006, p. 45). But not only can the choice of words be difficult and possibly lead to misunderstandings and preconceptions, it also influences how we perceive what we talk about. In the following, I will first establish the difficulties of referring to plants through language and then further set out how language shapes perception and contributes to the distinction between a human and a natural world.

/// wording images If we, for example, refer to plants through language, describing them and their form of life, one finds himself very easily interpreted as a supporter of spiritual and esoteric believes. Just mentioning the word relation in the context of human and plants can lead to a quick categorizing depending

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[an explanation of the title]


ON HUMAN

on the context the words are used in. At the same time, we do not have many other words to describe the complexity of plant life in its very own way. If we for example want to describe the scientifically proven ability of plants to sense their environment and react to the tiniest change, like signals emitted by other plants or the weather conditions, there are not many words we can use other than feel, sense, perceive or experience. Charged with connotations, these words can’t be used without creating a direct link to human features and therefore a description that is not open towards completely different forms of sensing. Through language that we normally use in connection to us, we unintentionally compare the plants features to human features. That reduces the neutrality with which we address plant life and even enhances the already human-colored perspective we have.

wording worlds /// Further, language and especially the act of defining something can contribute to a reductive perspective on the world. If we – for example – use the distinction of nature and culture, it becomes quite obvious how we create definitions that make up worlds. To reflect on that, I will use and example that Daniel Feige discussed in a philosophical discourse about design: Feige introduces an analysis by the American literary scientist Stephen J. Greenblatt. He draws our attention towards a landscape, in this case the Yosemite national park. At a certain point the asphalted path ends and what Greenblatt calls wilderness begins. This specific place is marked with a billboard. Both, the end of the billboard and the end of the asphalted path, are signs for Greenblatt that make it possible to experience nature as nature. Without the act of marking natural environments as natural, Greenblatt says, the distinction between natural and artificial environments would be senseless. Feige argues, based on Greenblatt, that this thought is controversial in two ways: First of all, that nature needs to be marked by something human made in order to be seen as nature and second that nature needs to be juxtaposed to artificial environments in order to be articulated as nature. (cf. Feige 2018, p. 116/117). Despite his objection, Feige and Greenblatt both contribute to a definition of nature by juxtaposing it (Greenblatt) and also by discussing it in comparison (Feige) to what they define as culture. The definition, the wording of nature and culture and their juxtaposing creates what also De Sou-

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sa Santos referred to speaking about abyssal thinking. Not nature itself is changing through its definition. Only what we see as nature and especially what we not see as nature. The distinction of human-made environments and natural environments lead to the creation of two mental worlds: the artificial world and the natural world – „this side of the line“ and „the other side of the line“ (de Sousa Santos 2007, p. 45). Thereby we oversee that only the artificial world is actually influencable by its definitions as it is a constructed world. The natural world is not affected by its definition as it is not a constructed thought, but a world that lies beyond human thought and control. A distinction in language between nature and culture is therefore contributing to the division of a human and a natural world whereas in reality such a division is, at from an ecological point of view, not corresponding to the interconnections and complexity of relations between beings and from a philosophical point of view missleading. The only thing changing through the use of language to define nature and culture is that we do not see ourselves as part of natural environments anymore. We created worlds through the use of language and definitions, discussing where to draw the line between nature and culture, forgetting that maybe there is no line to draw and the distinction between world is only in our mind and intellectual tradition. Or as Bachelard said: They don’t exist in nature, they have to be constructed. (cf. 1949, p. 103).

/// wording perceptions But not only is language and definition contributing to an intellectual distinction between worlds. It can also contribute to a certain colored perception. “Kantian conception of language enables taxonomies of abstract knowledge and creates structures about what things are and how the world is.” (Voegelin 2018, p. 127). Therefore, we do not necessarily see something as it is, but we see it for what we expect it to be and what it is defined as. Salome Voegelin used a story to picture that link between the use of language and our perception of the plant world. The story is reconstructed by memory and was heard at Konstfack Research Week 2019 during the Node Listening: Imagining, Encountering and Inventing the Aural wherein Salome

33

[error]

[cosmic]


Susan Sontag once said: A thing is a thing Not what is said of that thing. I agree. Word reduce, kidnap meaning and I would like to add: It is in the meeting with this thing, an object, future formulates. The meeting with.. With Creates an in between and this is a dwelling point for time to come, that possibility

Carola Bjรถrk, 2018


ON HUMAN

Voegelin introduced into the world of sound with a curated performance called Invisible Volumes and Vertical Geographies: Thinking Things and Space through Sounding and Listening: Early in our times some young men whose origin was Germany were sent to explore the flora of an unknown jungle. They had their sketchbooks and were asked to investigate and sketch trees – photography was not yet invented. After a while, when they came back from the jungle all their sketches of trees looked like oak trees, although the trees they had seen were very much differently leafed and otherly barked. Why didn’t they sketch what they see? One could guess they did, because the only tree they knew was an oak tree. [modes of projection]

We don’t look at something unknown and see it the way it is, but we compare it, try to define it, try to understand and fully grasp it through comparison with something we already know. By not seeing it for its uniqueness, details and characteristics that might be special, are overseen. Things are characterized, categorized, ordered and otherness is neglected and replaced by things we know.

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// tying together A word is never a full reflection of what something is as the word being used is loaded with definition and meaning that is understood differently by everyone hearing it. Most importantly, the word we use to describe something does not influence the thing itself. It only influences the images and connections made in the mind of the person hearing that word as they always comes with a certain definition. It is that definition, that picture created in the head of the person hearing that word, connected to other words, forming a sentence, forming a story, forming a narrative, that changes how the described thing is perceived. The borders of written and spoken language is something we can complement with design. Through visual language, the possibility to discuss something are not restricted to the coded sign and sound system we call language, but are broadened to other ways of expression. That is one of the main reasons that lead me to the translation of the thoughts I am discussing in this thesis to a more easily graspable format: This is why I decided to try and create an experience that – based on the developed thoughts – is tangible and understandable on another level. Otherness and the acceptance of otherness are not to be words and definitions anymore, but an interactive experience that can be made.

/// modes of perception “Our knowledge of the outside world depends on our modes of perception” (Bronowski, 1978: S.5). As the previous chapters have shown, our perception is colored not only by the intellectual western tradition, but also by the language we use to refer to things. These modes of perception shape our perception of the world. “As soon as we perceive the objects around us we consider them in relation to ourselves—and rightfully so […]. This completely natural way of considering and judging things seems as easy as it is necessary. But it also makes us susceptible to a thousand errors that can shame us and embitter our lives” (von Goethe 1792). Once a mode of attention that was crucial to survive, this perception now contributes to a reductive reflection of the surrounding world. In order to shift away from that, as Carola Björk shared in her poem

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[wording worlds]

[making tangible]


ON HUMAN

we have to be aware. What follows it is not to relate to an other through the concepts we developed or the words we use to describe it. It is in the experience with the other, where something new is developing. It is the encounter with the other and a focus on the with. It is not about investigating the parts in isolation, but it is about the relation between them. What connects and divides them, what tensions lie within, what ties them together or separates them. It is necessary that we shift our modes of perception towards this more inclusive perspective in order to broaden, review and possibly adjust our knowledge according to the experiences we make with others through interacting with them.

/// modes of projection

[the intangible plant]

Perceiving something in relation to ourselves is always to a certain extend a projection of one’s own features on the other. This way of experiencing the world and encountering with things we don’t yet know leads to a, as also Goethe stated, possibly erroneous one. Through experiencing unknown things through a comparison to what we already know also leads to a perception which is valuing sameness more than otherness. We as a species value other species more if they are close to us. We value similarities. “The mistake usually has its source in […] that we are often more delighted with the idea than with the thing itself. Or perhaps we should say we take pleasure in a thing in so far as we form an idea of it and when it fits to our way of looking.” (Goethe 1792). That way of perceiving others, naturally leads to a violation of the complexity and otherness of that other. In relation to plant life: “[…] to raise the question of vegetal life phenomenologically, by chasing it out of its concealment and by shedding light onto it, is already to violate this life, to overlook its non-phenomenality” (Marder 2015, p. 28). In his opinion, we have to look at plant life “without projecting [our] own rationality upon the idealized plant” (ibid., p. 94). Marder especially refers to the otherness of plant life and critiques the neglection of its phenomenological otherness which is already overseen in the pure act of trying to understand plant life from a human perspective. // free “[…] there are no certain means to know if we are really seeing and under-

36


standing the phenomenon we are claiming to. It is easy to read too much or too little into the thing because our only guides for trustworthiness are our intensity of awareness of the phenomenon and our ability to continually return to the phenomenon as the means and ends of descriptive and interpretive accuracy.�

(Seamon 2005, p. 87)

We see others not as they are. We see others as we are. The thoughts of the previous two section leads to the question how we can relate to others, in this case plants, in a more inclusive way. What I intend by drawing intention to differences, to the foreign, to the unexpected, the unknown, is that we stay with the feeling if we do not fully grasp and understand.

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FROM AN OTHER TO ANOTHER

/ confronting error A shift from the current reductive and anti-ecological perspective is necessary as it never was before. As already discussed, the climate change is only one of the indicators that our current way of inhabiting this world and interacting with its other inhabitants is leading to its destruction. As shown in the previous chapter, our believe system and traditional western science played a big role in the shaping of the current way of living. Boehnert is right when she states that the shaping of our believe system also enables its reshaping: “While epistemological error is deeply entrenched in contemporary though, it is a way of knowing that has been learned – so it is also a way of knowing that can be challenged and reconstructed” (Boehnert 2018, p. 72)

// goethian phenomenology and a holistic pratice of science “Allow the natural world to present itself in a way by which it could speak if it were able to.” (Seamon 2005, p. 87) “Explanation is rational; understanding is intuitive. Reconnecting these two severed branches of our psyche is a vitally important task if we are to respond appropriately to the vast ecological crisis that our culture has unleashed upon the world.” (Harding 2006, p. 20). Harding refers to his proposal towards what he calls holistic science. He reasons that the most valuable findings for him and a true fascination and awe for nature established through experiences he made with the other. Neglected as one’s own subjective impressions in common science, experiences are mostly not part of a research practice. Conducting his research, Harding was facing the problem, that he could not include first hand experiences he made spending time in nature and that were for him an important part of his cognitive processes (cf. Harding 2006, p. 24/25). In contrast to a lot of other thinkers from the 1800s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German poet and nature scientist developed a phenomenological approach to understanding the wholeness of natural organisms, particularly plants. It seems as the surrounding world is rather a world in a scientific manner explained through the description of things, knowledge,

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[tying together]

[scientific tradition]


FROM AN OTHER TO ANOTHER

definitions determined in language and culture rather then through our own experiences. Some may even argue that the study of a phenomena is considered more important then its appearance in the real world. Goethe believed that researchers and scientists should not only pay attention to measurable means, but also study for example a plants form and its relations to its surrounding in order to understand the same and only for that reason and not in relation to a human. He also stated, that it is important to “consider a phenomenon in itself and in relation to others, neither desiring nor disliking it” (Goethe 2010). Goethe also saw the difficulties conducting this kind of research: “[…] when as observers we use our strict power of discernment to examine nature’s hidden relationships; when we enter a world in which we alone can guide our steps and must take care to avoid all hast; […] when we are our own most critical observer, controlled by no other and remaining sceptical of ourselves despite all inner engagement – in all these ways it is evident how strict the demands are, whether on ourselves of on others, and how little we can hope to completely fulfil them. But these difficulties and the hypothetical impossibility of surmounting them must not hinder us from achieving what is possible. […] It goes without saying that experience, as in everything we undertake, has and should have the greatest influence in science […]” (ibid.). His take on facing that problem of a subjective mind was to include as many minds as possible in is processes and gather opinions. Goethe saw that everyone had a different perspective, discovered something else and draw his attention to phenomena he might have otherwise overseen (cf. ibid.). This way of conducting science, which includes non-measurable perspectives could lead to a shifting perception towards one where we “no longer recognise, that we are inseparable from the whole nature, and from our Earth as a living being” (Harding 2006, p. 34). David Seamon, Professor in Environment Studies in the Faculty of Architecture in the Kansas State University supports this perspective. He argues that “Goethe’s way of science, understood as a phenomenology of nature, might be one valuable means for fostering this openness towards the living presence of the natural world, including its animals, but also plants, its terrestrial forms, its ecological regions, its formations of earth, sky and water, its sensual presence as expressed, for example, through light, darkens and color.

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goethian phenomenology

[…] Goethe’s way of science was highly unusual because it moved away from a quantitive, analytical approach to the natural world and emphasized, instead, an intimate first-hand encounter between the student and the thing studied” (Seamon 2005, p. 86/87). But as well as including experiences in science, Harding also states that it is important to not abandon “the considerable achievements and benefits that it has undoubtedly brought us” (Harding 2006, p. 35). That is definitely a crucial point: it is not about critiquing science as a whole. It is about questioning how science contributes to the common western perspective and if that perspective is in accordance with our environment. And if not, how science might be able to shift in order to contribute to a more complete reflection of the world.

// paradigm shift Not only the way of conducting science and the influences allowed in scientific research have to change, but also the general western believe system is more than outdated according to the conducted research. It is a poor reflection of the actual complexity surrounding us. “What we [currently] observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning” (Harding 2006, p. 38). Our perception of the world and the way we believe it is constructed is based on a paradigm that is misleading (cf. Boehnert 2018, 56). “Paradigm shifts in science [are] a change in the basic assumptions, epistemology and collectively held world-views of a scientific community” (ibid.). Paradigms therefore not only include the assumption of the scientific leaders of a society, but the ideologies and underlying believes of a majority within a specific culture. As they are the foundation of a believe system concerning a whole society, a paradigm shift is affecting a collective world view. Currently, a paradigm shift is slowly forming: “An ecological paradigm is potentially emergent. This paradigm does not negate positivism or social constructionism, but it asserts the partial validity of reductionist science and the importance of social constructional analysis – but it changes these paradigms as the exclusive mode of knowledge: Western societies are ex-

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[error]


FROM AN OTHER TO ANOTHER

periencing the emergence of what can be termed revisionary ecological paradigm, a fragile quality of ‘third order change’ or learning which offers a direction beyond destructive tendencies of modernism, and the relativistic tendencies of deconstructive post-modernism” (ibid., p. 57).

ecological thought // Based on Joana Boehnert, I will briefly introduce the concept of ecological thought in order to deepen the concept of ecological literacy. As she formulates it very clear, I will use her words once again: “Ecological thought breaks the epistemic error of modernity. It addresses fragmented consciousness and challenges intellectual constructs that justify the exploitation of nature” (2018, p. 74). “Ecological thought challenges the tradition wherein nature is regarded as simply resources for humankind to exploit. It proposes that both ecological and social crises result from a legacy of thought wherein the environment is objectified as alien and reduced to chattel for human consumption. The historical processes that have led to the denial of human integration within non-human nature have left a dysfunctional legacy. The modernist descriptions of reality, both scientific positivism and post-modernism, form the theoretical building blocks of the dominant scientific, political and cultural institutions and are basis of the cultural fabric and the social order. Ecological thought rejects these world-views insofar as both neglect ecological context” (ibid., p. 99).

ecological literacy // Based on ecological thought, ecological literacy is a concept that internalized the interconnections of us with our environments and is aware of the impacts that our actions have on of this environment. It also challenges the term sustainability. Tightly connected and often used in a consumerist context, sustainability creates the illusion that an ecological way of living is possible within the current economic and cultural system (cf. Boehnert 2018, p. 75). In Contrary to sustainability, and ecological literate perspective is not be-

42


lieving in the current system and is not constructing the elusive goal of staying with it. It is unhiding the fact that a system change is necessary in order to turn the anti-ecological and harmful economy and the overconsumption of resources into a way of inhabiting our environments which is not exploitive.

// deep ecology Deep ecology is a trait of ecosophies that puts a great emphasize on action. It “aims to help individuals to explore the ethical implications of their sense of profound connection to nature, and to ground these ethical insights in practical action in the service of genuine ecological [ecological literacy]” (Harding 2006, p. 56). Clearly, there is a connection to what already Goethe discovered: direct experiences with and within nature as the completing piece. Thereby, the emphasize on action distinguishes it from other ecosophies and makes it as much a movement as a philosophie. “All life has intrinsic value, irrespective of its value to humans” (ibid.) and what deep ecology tries to achieve is a way of “being in the world that minimises harm to nature whilst enhancing one’s own feelings of awe, wonder and belonging” (ibid.) which once again emphasizes the importance of experiences and a direct encounter with plants.

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[making tangible]


RECAP

We live in an intertwined world with complex relations between environments and inhabiting species. Due to the limits of human perception, we will never be able to fully grasp the forms of life surrounding us. Amongst others, intellectual tradition and language shaped and colour our perspective of the world. The current perspective we constructed, is a reductive reflection of the complexity of the world. Plant life and its metaphysical intangibleness is an enigma for human perception, that cannot be fully understand or controlled. Their form of life is elusive and not graspable for a human perception due to their degree of otherness. Although we do not and probably will never be able to fully overcome this gap, we are not in the position to evaluate the value of species. Accepting otherness and staying with the trouble of the hidden complexities of the world is the only way to open up for an inclusive and ecological point of view.

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ANOTHER

/ out of sync. As developed in the previous chapters, plant life and human life are out of sync which mostly reasons from our erroneous perception of the world and the resulting epidemiologies. But it also reasons from the otherness that is surrounding plant life. The fundamentally different form of being and the human inability to fully perceive and understand a plant due to its otherness. I will focus mainly on two aspects in this chapter that are movement and the inseparable connection and interaction of a plant with it‘s environment, as they were the central aspects I concentrated my following artistic research on. Before formulating thoughts about plant life in my own words, I want to introduce the following perspectives with an interview. The first time I came across Emanuele Coccia was in 2018 when I met him for an interview during my time at ENSCI Les Ateliers. As that interview was not very much documented, I will recap on his thoughts through another interview that has the mostly the same content. Oliver Zahm talked to Emanuele Coccia about his book The Life of Plants. A Metaphysics of Mixture. His perspective was one of the first ones I encountered in the very beginning of my research and I think it still is a very good introduction to the following thoughts. In order to recap and exemplify how the current way of approaching plants through language and science is not encountering them with a human undertone, I will then insert a small excursion to the discussion around the question if plants have a soul. With this I will recap on how the projection of human thought shapes our perception of plants and makes us encounter them with a mode of projection that is leading us to ask the wrong questions – not seeing plants as they are, but as we are.

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OLIVIER ZAHM — In your book La Vie des Plantes: Une Metaphysique du Melange (The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Melange), you begin with the observation that plants have been neglected in the history of ideas. How did you come to that realization? EMANUELE COCCIA — When I was young, I was sent to a high school for agriculture. For years, I had to study botany, chemistry, and plant life in general. Since my philosophical interests were well established by then, I had already realized that our knowledge of plants was at a much lower level than our knowledge of animals. The problem with botany is that it’s essentially based on concepts drawn from animal life. Its methodology is built entirely on the animal – life point of view. OLIVIER ZAHM — What you’re saying, then, is that biology is zoocentric. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. And our neglect and ignorance of plants are far deeper on the philosophical side. Ever since Darwin, even while acknowledging that man is an animal, a biological species, we’ve continued to divide knowledge into the humanities and the natural sciences, when in fact that division makes no sense. At the very least, we should consider the humanities to be part of biology and zoology, and the natural sciences to be spiritual sciences, because man is an animal. OLIVIER ZAHM — And somewhere in that division between the humanities and the natural sciences, plants have been forgotten. EMANUELE COCCIA — There are psychological reasons as well. It’s probably easier to identify with an animal than with a plant. Ecological debates start with the assumption that we absolutely must save the animals because we’re doing them violence, but we give little thought, or much less thought, to what happens in the vegetal world. OLIVIER ZAHM — You analyze every aspect of plants — leaves, roots, flowers — and you extrapolate the notion that plants serve to link together all other forms of life; they’re the link between animals, men, the earth, the sky. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. Plants embody life’s continuity, not its separation into distinct realms. First of all, plants produce continuity insofar as they’re the


agents that produce the physical atmosphere — oxygen — within which all higher animal life is possible. In fact, they’re the necessary condition for that existence. It’s plants that have rendered animal life possible and have transformed the planet into a planet full of life and forms and living matter. OLIVIER ZAHM — Thanks to photosynthesis, they transform solar energy into oxygen. EMANUELE COCCIA — Exactly. The interesting thing is, the transformation of the atmosphere into an oxygenated atmosphere was a byproduct of plant metabolism. In fact, the primary function of photosynthesis is not the production of oxygen, but the storage of solar energy in mass. The byproduct of that process is the production of oxygen. OLIVIER ZAHM — And that stored energy is also what delivers energy to an animal that eats plants. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. In addition to producing oxygen, plants produce life in a second way. They’re the sole living beings that can exploit the primary source of energy available on earth, which is sunshine. Without the mediation of plants, animals would never have attained their numbers or their level of complexity because plants are what transform all that energy reaching the earth and allow for its storage as living matter, as biomass. No other form of life is capable of instantly transforming solar energy into mass. OLIVIER ZAHM — You go so far as to say that, in this relation between plants and other living beings, plants are the principle of a universal psyche, of the universal sharing of life. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. It’s a very old idea. For a very long time — up until the 19th century, when we forgot about it — there was a whole tradition, beginning with the Stoics and exploding in the Renaissance, according to which the paradigm for the essence of reason was the plant, and specifically the seed. OLIVIER ZAHM — The essence of reason is the seed? EMANUELE COCCIA — The idea is that reason is not the awareness of some-


thing, but the capacity to transform, or fashion, the world. The example par excellence of a rational event is when an artisan takes a piece of matter and makes something of it, gives it a form or a function. That is rationality par excellence. If we adopt this perfectly reasonable point of view, then the seed is a force able to draw forth incredible forms from matter. But at that point, reason is no longer just a human or animal faculty; it’s a cosmic force. OLIVIER ZAHM — Hence the idea of a universal psyche? EMANUELE COCCIA — Absolutely. A force that permeates the universe and to which we owe the continual and perpetual youth of forms. OLIVIER ZAHM — And when exactly did we forget this vision of reason? EMANUELE COCCIA — It happened in the modern age, when we sought to reduce reason to a purely human force. As a result, we reduced rationality or mind to something spiritual or psychological, and thus belonging strictly to man. Even today’s genetics is a way to conceive of rationality on the material level, because a gene is nothing but a code, and thus an extremely rational structure, which allows for the production, from matter, of incredibly complex forms of life. In a way, genetics is nothing but the latest version of a pre-modern tradition that had tried to align reason and matter, mind and matter, reason and the seed. OLIVIER ZAHM — So your examination of the life of plants is also a rereading of science. EMANUELE COCCIA — And an attempt to bring together once more the history of science, philosophy, and art, which we study differently today, but which in the past was never split up. We should re-educate our view of the past and of the present, and realize that science and art are not so very contrary. OLIVIER ZAHM — When you deal with art, in fact, you use plants as a starting point for your thinking on forms. You say that “plants have no hands with which to manipulate the world, and yet it would be difficult to find defter agents for the construction of forms.” Do you see plants as faceless, handless artistic agents? EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes, absolutely. The old idea I was just talking about,


where the seed is a form of rationality, was also the idea of the universal artist or the cosmic artist. This rational force corresponds to the force of matter itself and does not pass through thought or mediation. Matter itself seeks, invents, produces its forms of life and rationality simultaneously. And the force that allows this was often called artistic force. In Greek, there is only one word for art, technique, and reason. OLIVIER ZAHM — We can look at that from any angle. And hence, perhaps, the power of plants as decorative forces in the Middle Ages or in Islamic art and all the way up to Art Deco. EMANUELE COCCIA — Actually, plants embody the aesthetic idea of a vitality of form. Life’s ability to produce its own forms. Inversely, this illustrates that forms arenothing but living beings and that art isnothing but the sphere in which forms come to life. OLIVIER ZAHM — Art is not a mere symbolic derivative of human activity? EMANUELE COCCIA — Exactly. It’s a force for changing the world. Every major work of art is an object that suddenly, magically manages to change the forms around it. Indeed, we could adopt this perspective to take a fresh look at the history of art, at art’s forms, which are so powerful that they have brought other forms to life. Fashion is exactly that. Painting and sculpture are exactly that. A form that will no longer be contained by the simple object in which it has been captured and that suddenly explodes and spreads all over the place. In Antiquity and the Middle Ages, they used a vegetal metaphor to designate this force — the force peculiar to plants, which seems totally anonymous and bound to no specific individual. OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, because plants contradict the idea of individualism. EMANUELE COCCIA — From the genetic perspective, big trees, for instance, are often beings with genetically distinct parts: the old parts and the recent parts. It’s an interesting paradox. These trees are beings in which different genetic identities can coexist. OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re schizophrenic.


EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes, right — genetically schizophrenic. But, even from a purely formal perspective, you can cut certain plants into little pieces and replant the pieces, and they’ll reproduce. Are these really individuals? OLIVIER ZAHM — And the sexuality of plants isn’t individuated, either. EMANUELE COCCIA — Unlike any given animal, plants never really stop growing. At some point, animals will stop, and it’s at that time that they become capable of reproduction. Whereas with plants, there is no opposition between reproduction and growth. As a result, plants must produce their own sex organs every season for reproduction. The flower is a sex organ and totally ephemeral. Plants construct their sex organs, then let them fall off. A simple tree, for instance, will construct thousands of sex organs in a season. It has sex with all those organs, but afterward lets them fall off. A plant is an organic being that is always cobbling together its own body to do what it wants to do. It has to produce a sex organ, new leaves, and so forth. OLIVIER ZAHM — When you say a flower is a sex organ — pollen also needs to be disseminated to other flowers. So plants need wind, too, as well as other animals. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. With animals, sex normally takes place between two individuals of the same species. Whereas with plants, sex is a cosmic event. It makes use of other animals, bees, or, as you were saying, meteorological agents, like rain and wind. It’s a beautiful thing that to have sex, plants need more than two individuals. They need a whole world. OLIVIER ZAHM — In a sense, it’s true of human beings as well: they need a bed, emotions, and so on. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. Human beings need an atmosphere, music, and maybe alcohol. It’s true. We forget that sex isn’t just penetration, but an arrangement of factors as well. OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve written a lovely passage on the theme of breath. What is the link between plants and breath? EMANUELE COCCIA — Our link with plants goes beyond agriculture or garden-


ing or long walks in the countryside. Every time we breathe, in fact, we come into close or distant contact with plants. We feed on their detritus, on what they expel — on their shit, so to speak, which is oxygen. This banal event is the basis of all existence. Respiration is an act through which we immerse ourselves in the world and allow the world to immerse itself in us — the world of plants. It’s an astonishing dynamic in which the container becomes the content and vice versa. OLIVIER ZAHM — So oxygen isn’t just a vital need, but also our link with plants, as if we breathed plants. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. Before we ever start eating, moving, or speaking, we live off their life. Indeed, animal life is always the life of other living beings. Whereas plants are the sole autotrophs: they don’t need other living beings to survive and find nourishment. They live off sunshine, carbon dioxide, and water. Animals, on the other hand, live by absorbing the life of others, by feeding off it. OLIVIER ZAHM — Plants don’t feed on other plants. Aside from carnivorous plants, which constitute an exception. They’re like the black sheep of the plant world. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes, but that exception goes to show that life is a process of reciprocal cannibalism. Life is always feeding off itself, and no living being can survive without feeding on, consuming, and cannibalizing other living beings. OLIVIER ZAHM — Except for plants. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. But, although they eat no other living beings, plants are nonetheless themselves eaten by other living beings. They don’t escape the cannibalistic system, whose law of life is that life feeds on itself. OLIVIER ZAHM — You speak next of leaves and roots. You analyse the life of plants in two respects: underground and in the sky. You make us aware that plants maintain the link between earth and sky, from root to leaf. EMANUELE COCCIA — Well, plants are the only living beings to live simultaneously in two contrary environments: underground and in the air. In the case of


amphibious animals, we speak of living beings that can pass from one milieu to the other, in succession. Whereas any plant lives simultaneously in two different milieus, which are structured around completely different forces. The aerial part, for example, has an anti-gravitational tropism, whereas the underground part reinforces gravity because it goes downward, toward the centre of the earth, to seek out water and minerals. OLIVIER ZAHM — Do plants establish a cosmic link between earth and sky? EMANUELE COCCIA — Plants are double. They’re aerial and subterranean. They’re amphibious. They’re the mediating agent between earth and sky. And the link in question is, of course, photosynthesis: plants’ ability to transform solar energy into biomass, into living matter. Life on earth is possible thanks exclusively to that energy source on earth, which is also the chief energy source on earth. We always forget that the foundation of our existence is extraterrestrial: it comes from the sun! The foundation of all life on earth is that extraterrestrial star. Plants are the beings that terrestrialize the sun. They convey sunshine on earth. They render that extraterrestrial force terrestrial, and thus establish a link between extraterrestrial space and the earth. This is something that we manage to do with solar panels, but plants do it with their own bodies, and their own aesthetics, their own forms. OLIVIER ZAHM — And then there’s oil, which is also decomposed plants — and is yet another kind of energy. EMANUELE COCCIA — If you give it some thought, all kinds of things come from plants. What you drink, your coffee or tea, is a vegetal psychotropic. We unwittingly have all kinds of more or less esoteric knowledge about the vegetal soul. OLIVIER ZAHM — To wrap things up, could you say a word about your theory of flowers, which is the loveliest part of your book? Flowers, you say, are the sexuality of plants. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. The funny thing is, we use flowers as gifts. It’s as if we were giving people sex organs. There’s a whole philosophical tradition, now forgotten, that recognizes flowers as the rationality of plants or the paradigm par excellence of reason. It’s a very interesting theory because the flower is what


produces the seed, and the flower is therefore even more fundamental than the seed to the idea of reason. If we agree to consider the flower as reason’s form of existence par excellence, we realize that reason is a force that can actually modify forms. Reason, then, is not reproduction of the same but the force that allows for the infinite variation of forms. OLIVIER ZAHM — It is also extreme seduction. EMANUELE COCCIA — Yes. It’s a force of seduction and variation. The flower is the force that allows for the attraction of things or provides for their encounter. Because the flower is the attractor. It’s a magnetic force — and not only with respect to other individuals of the same species. It’s a universally magnetic force. So that is what reason is. It’s the force behind the variation of forms and the force that attracts beings, that attracts different forms, to the same place. It’s the force that constitutes a world out of these different individuals, different forms, and so on. Camille Henrot did an exhibition of bouquets in the Japanese tradition — ikebana — titled “Is It Possible to be a Revolutionary and Like Flowers?” END


// speed and movement A plants speed does not match human speed. Our language reflects on that in a quite picturing manner: The acient Middle Latin word vegetabilis meaning growing, flourishing and the word vegetare meaning to animate, to enliven and vegere – to be alive, to be active draws a very vibrant picture draws a contrast to the usage of the word today. The active, flourishing connotation shifted towards vegetieren or vor sich hin vegetieren which is used in German to describe an animal or human which behaves extremely passive, slow, sedate and languid. The predominant use of the word is therefore nowadays mostly coined with a negative connotation of the inability of a living being to fully make use of its full potential. This use of the word again draws attention to the features a plant lacks. It is disregarding that plant life is actually capable of conducting three of four kinds of movements Aristotle described in De Anima. The movements a plant is capable of is “altering its state, […] growing, and […] decaying” (Marder 2013, p. 20). The only movements a plant is not capable of is the ability of changing its position. Referring to Aristotle Marder further argues that if one regards the change of position as the change of position in space, a plants movement becomes a form of movement “appropriate to its being” (ibd.). No matter if the forth form of movement is taken into account, it is undeniable that plants are capable of moving in “a certain pace and rhythm of movement, which we customarily disregard, since it is too subtle for our cognitive and perceptual apparatuses to register in an everyday setting, and with which the tempo of our own lives is usually out of sync” (ibid., p. 21).

// cosmic It is especially within a plants reproduction, where the uninterrupted transformation and the intermingling with its surrounding becomes visible: flowers and other parts are developed over and over. Highly ephemeral and unstable as they are to reproduce every year again. When a plant does not need a part anymore – leaves in the winter, flowers in spring and seeds in the autumns (generally spoken) – it just gets rid of them and spreads them into the world. The reproduction of a plant in itself is in this sense a cosmic event. Not only

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two beings, but the whole surrounding is included. Insects that carry pollen from one plant to another, the wind atomizing seeds in the atmosphere, humans or animals that carry seed in from of a burs or internally, after eating a fruit from a plant. To reproduce, a plant needs the world. This makes visible how highly a plant is connected with its environment. In order to reproduce, they have to merge with their environment.

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Also a plants ontology is reflecting on this cosmic interconnections with the environment. A plant is inseparably connected. Due to its inability to move in a sense of changing position exposes the plant to its environment without the possibility to escape. But it also determines how deeply plants are connected to everything surrounding them: “Their absence of movement [from a human point of view] is nothing but the reverse of heir complete adhesion to what happens to them and their environment. One cannot separate the plant – neither physically not metaphysically – from the world that accommodates it. It is the most intense, radical, and pragmatic form of being in the world. […] Plants embody the most direct and elementary connection that life can establish with the world. […] Under the sun or under the clouds, mixing with water and wind, their life is an endless cosmic contemplation, one that […] accepts all their nuances to the point of melting with the world” (Coccia 2018, p. 5/6).

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So how do we move towards an ecological literate future, wherein the otherness of plants is not neglected, but seen and where we are aware of the colored perspective we have? In order to shed light to this from another angle, I conducted experiments that reflect on the otherness of plans from different perspectives. Assembled in a small exhibition, the experiments will show different possible ways of how an artistic approach towards the interactions and relations between humans and plants can enhance, propose or criticize certain aspects.

/ design as a tool for wording and worlding Design in can be a tool to create narratives and to visualize and exemplify current errors. “At its best, design is an integrative transdisciplinary field of conceptual and applied tactic knowledge that bridges theory and action in pursuit of practical outcomes” (ibid., p. 15). Through the use of a visual instead of a linguistic language, connecting thoughts with experiences, I used design as another way of communicating thoughts. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby published a list in their book Speculative Everything – Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming. Within this list they described a way how design can be: “Critical, problem finding, asks questions, design for debate, […] change us to suit the world, […] provocation, […] makes us think […]” (Dunne & Raby 2013, vii). A more conceptual, critical and speculative use of design can therefore open discussion about how things are and especially how they could be. As established in the chapter / linguistic error I draw attention to the restrictions that lie within language and how its use can contribute to narrow perspectives. Through transporting the thoughts I constructed into a visual dimension, I intend to open them up. Less defined, but also less restrictive. The way of visualizing I chose is not applied and not rooted in contexts. I used design as a tool to construct narratives that try to inspire, shift the view and enable to step into another mode of seeing things. The visual language I chose is thereby quite abstract and metaphorical. I tried to give insights that inspire to question. I constructed experiences that challenge our current

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perspective. I intentionally left a lot of things open in order to poke and raise discussions.

a comment on interaction design // This thesis is part of a research on an interactive human-plant relations. In order to establish an understanding of how interaction design is viewed, I will introduce a definition: Interaction is defined as a “reciprocal action or influence” or “the direct involvement with someone or something” (Oxford Dictionaries). Interaction therefore describes an action based on interrelations between actors. In classic interaction design the actors are mostly humans and machines. The discipline of interaction design emerged from the fusion of the fields of human-computer interaction and the discipline of design (cf. Broms 2014, 60). In addition, interaction design mostly refers to work that is including digital material in some way or another. As the interactions are the main focus of interaction design, the main objective is often to make complex functions of a digital device easily graspable and accessible for a user through the creation of an interface. Although this perception of interaction design is largely agreed on, also a broader understanding is represented: “How do we plan an action, how do we create the concrete form of experience, and how do we evaluate the consequences of action?” (Buchanan quoted in Broms 2014, p. 61). Based on the previous definition of interaction and interaction design, I am broadening the focus on digital material of interaction design towards an understanding that can also concentrate on an interaction between human and e.g. plants or, to go even further, on plants and their environment. Then, the focus is the interrelation between the involved actors and how their actions influence the other. Interaction design is in this case used as a tool to make the complex plant world and especially its otherness accessible and experiencable. The main complexity, which is also the biggest difference between a human-computer interaction and a human-plant interaction is thereby that a

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computer is something human made and therefore fully controllable and known by the person designing the interaction. In contrast, plants as an other form of being with its elusive characteristics challenge the creation of an interaction as there is always the difficulty that not every influence and correlation is seen. When designing for and with plants or when including them in an interaction, one has to be aware that there might be factors that are overseen, parts that one does not know and resulting influences or reactions that are unintended.

// plants and interaction design In the very early states of this project, the goal was to establish an interaction with plant life. But as it turned out, the acceptance of otherness and therefore plant life as it is is hardly combinable with the creation of a direct interaction. Establishing an interaction would, on the first hand, be a very human approach towards plant life. It reflects on a wish to be able to grasp and understand and to be able to discover in another way. Also my drive at the beginning of the research was to bridge the gap between humans and plants in order to make it easier for us to relate. But the mere approach of wanting to bridge the gap is very human in itself and now I think that staying with the gap, therefore not intervening and learning to appreciate is the most inclusive approach or at least what is needed in this thesis in order to first establish this openness. Otherwise, it could quickly become what most projects about interaction design with plants are: Plants are used as interfaces or they are controlled. For example, their electric potential is turned into something that creates the illusion of a type of language. The approach towards interactive plants is mostly to make visible what we can’t see or perceive and a projection of human features onto plant life. The following projects show this manner of creating interactions with plants.

// making tangible through design In order to first explore how design can be used as a tool to shape interactions and shift perspectives, I chose two projects that I will discuss in this context

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to begin with. Drawing attention to the current perception of plant life, the chosen projects articulate a certain way of interacting with plants and also of turning plants into something interactive which is to be critically questioned.

// the interactive plant growing In this example, which is a very early one of its kind, plants are used as in interactive interface. Through touch, a computer-generated plant is growing on a screen next to the real plant. Directly related to the field of interaction design, interactive plant growing is enabling the user to decide about the speed and growth of the computer-generated plants, this project draws attention to a plants movement and growth. Plant life is made tangible, through virtually speeding up natural processes. “The artificial growing of program-based plants is an expression of the desire to discover the principle of life, which is always defined by the transformations and morphogenesis of certain organisms” (Sommerer, Mignonneau 1992a). The objective of the installation is thereby not only to show a plants growth and movement and make it interactive through an interface, but also to address peoples sensitivity towards real plants: “Since it takes some time for the viewer to discover the different levels for modulating and building the virtual plants, he will develop a higher sensitivity and awareness for real plants” (Sommerer, Mignonneau 1992b). As the intention of this project was not to critically question our perception of plant life and the way we interact with them, but to sensitize for a plants movement and growth, this project has to be seen critically. Not the plant itself is in focus and especially not its otherness. The installation tries to make plant life tangible through transforming and mapping its elusive features to a human tangible world. Thereby, the very own form of being of the plant gets lost and the person interacting with it is, next to computer-generated movement, only confronted with a haptical experience and therefore with a reductive representation of a plant.

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/// nanomagnetic plants Laura Cinti started this project with the motivation of challenging our perception of plant life especially in regard to their subtle – and for the human perception barely noticeable – movement. Magnetic Nanoparticles where absorbed by the plants roots and therefore transported in the plants systems. Due to their size, the particles were able to pass the plants selective uptake. With the use of a magnet, the magnetic nanoparticles could then be traced as the nanoparticles where pulled towards the magnet and with it the whole plant. Cinti says: “The artwork explores how movement can be actualised in plants and is the first demonstration of magnetically actuated plants. The significance of using nanoparticles as an artistic medium opens new perspectives that can challenge our understanding of plants, such as how we categorise and relate to them, by producing latent features such as an interactive motion” (Cinti 2011). Also this project refers to the manipulation of a plant. It shows how science and biotechnology can be used to manipulate a plant into a behaviour we can perceive and therefore relate to. As Cinti says herself, through a movement and interaction made possible due to the plants manipulation with magnetic particles, a discussion about how we relate to plants is opened. This project also shows once again, that it is easier to relate to a manipulated plant, reacting in a way we can grasp and understand then to a plant in its normal state of being. A version of the plant that is created under lab-like circumstances creates the illusion of an interaction and the illusion of a movement perceivable and therefore discussable by humans. Although we know that this is not the plants movement itself, the suddenly interactive plant seems to be an attractor of attention and possibly reflects on the wish of being able to understand more about a plant.

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// humanized The following experiment was part of my research during my studies at Konstfack. In order to exemplify the current perspective, searching for human features in others instead of seeing them as they are, I developed different low-tech interactive experiments. They show an interaction with plant life that is quite contrary to the values of this thesis. Precisely to explore this tension further, I wanted to create an interactive installation, that is raising questions about how our relation to plant life changes through perceivable movements and reactions. In contrast to the discussed projects it was not the aim to use hidden technologies in order to create the illusion of control and movement (nanomagnetic plants), nor to make plants tangible through a digital copy that is adjusted to our perception (the interactive plant growing). I wanted to emphasize the act of making plants more tangible is always connected to an altering of their form of being, mapping humanness on them. I therefore showcased the mechanisms and used low-tech solutions in order to make them very easy to understand. The surrounding I chose for the following experiments is a very clinical one, arousing what we know as artificial. I thereby wanted to enhance the fact, that the plants where artificially moved to see how this influences the viewer.

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/// vibrating pine The research in this direction started with a pine branch. I wanted to see how the perception of a plant changes when the plants piece is reacting to human touch in an unexpected way, perceivable for us. Through attaching a small device, the pine branch was spreading vibrations. The reactions to this quick experiment were very interesting: The vibrations were mostly seen as a kind of violation towards the plant. But it also definitely increased the attention and turned the pine branch into an object of interest. This clearly reflects on how much easier it is to relate to something that is reacting in a manner we are able to grasp.

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/// humanized moss In order to further develop this perception and also to bring it closer to the actual question of how our perception of a plant changes if it reacts in ways we can grasp, I conducted three experiments with moss. Through low-tech mechanisms, I turned the moss into interfaces the spectators could interact with. I chose three different movements: a breathing movement, very close to what we connect to a living being like us; a contracting movement which is a bit more abstract, but still charged with humanness and a vibrating piece in order to see how the reactions differ according to the degree of humanness. All of the mechanisms, making the moss react, where directly handled by the person interacting with the moss. I thereby wanted to make it more visual that not the actual plant is reacting, but that the reaction is caused by the mechanisms. Despite this very obvious animation, I got reactions like: “This looks so alive!” and “I definitely feel more compassionate towards the moss now”. These reactions were especially referring to the moss animated with breathing movements. The contracting moss, reminding of a pain reaction of a human, caused reactions like “It looks shy”, “It looks like it is in pain.” or “I feel sorry for the moss”. The third movement – the same vibration I already used with the pine branch – was more abstract and not as easy to relate to. It was, as the pine branch, also seen as a violation towards the plant or as a machine movement that only caused the reactions described in / vibrating pine. The three moss machines show pretty well how distorted our concept of something alive is. Artificially moved moss was perceived as more alive then moss in it’s natural environment. Especially the moss I assigned a breathing movement to was commented on as “a pet” or as something you could feel compassion for. We don’t see others as they are, we don’t see plants as alive in their natural environments because we don’t understand their way of living. We see them as we are, and that is why we perceive plants as more alive when they are in a plant sense not very much alive, but controlled and humanized. Next to these expected, but in a way unwanted reactions, the experiments also caused some of the intended critical thoughts. The installations were referred to as torturing machines as the moss was moved in ways that does not match its natural form of life. 67


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// a thought As the experiments showed, a plant reacting in a way we can perceive and relate to creates a tension. There is something disturbing, but also fascinating. A being, that we would normally not expect to behave in this way is suddenly reacting. The fact that we are fascinated, touched, disturbed and provoked by experiments like that reflect on the human wish to know. It reflects on the urge to understand and to be able to fully grasp and possibly also control. This way of relating is, as developed throughout this thesis, a dangerous one, as it confirms that human features are seen as more important than others, control is valued more than letting go and knowing is more valuable than not knowing. It reflects on the difficulties we have relating to something in another than our own way, the difficulties of accepting that we do not fully understand and control. Thereby it is neglected, that “what we observe [through this mode of control] is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning” (Harding 2006, p. 38). As it is impossible to not “possible to predict and control nature, at least in anything but very limited ways” (ibid., p. 39), he suggests a shift towards participation and active experiences, as also Goethe did.

/ interactions in sync. All the projects shown so far relate to versions of plants that are in a way humanized and that followed an approach controlling and moudling plants in order to relate to them. Movements are mapped on them or they are turned into an interactive surface. The next experiments aim towards an interaction that is open towards otherness, not manipulating, but creating something with the plant and most importantly taking the plants natural environment into account and what Harding referrs to as participation. The next part therefore focuses on the creation of interactions that stay with the elusive and explore the plant in its environment as it is – both in relation and interaction with each other.

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// root bridges in meghalaya india Although this is not at all a design project, I wanted to discuss it anyway because of the interactive creation between human and plant. The plant is also used in a way, but within its form of being, within its environment and within its boundaries of plant life. As one of the areas in the world with the most rainfall the region Meghalaya in India is confronted with swelling streams. Historically, the indigenous tribe Khasi built bamboo construction to cross the streams, but they ended up being swept away again and again. In order to be able to create bridges that last, they shifted from building them to growing them. The Khasi used the roots of the ficus elastic. This tree species produces secondary roots in order to stabilize in rough terrain. Using these hollow betel nut trunks to guide the roots on the “right” direction, the Khasi slowly construct the living root bridges shown on the picture. Given between ten and twenty years to grow and become sturdy, the root bridges are then able to carry multiple humans. And in difference to man-made construction materials, the bridges grow stronger throughout time as the roots counterbalance the stress through growth (cf. Ethnobiology, n.d). The Khasi, living surrounded by nature, managed to create something that is a hybrid between man-made and natural. Through ancient knowledge, experience and observation of this specific tree combined with the guidance of its roots, they managed to construct something together with the plant. The key factor in this way of building is without doubts the time that needs to pass for the roots to grow and be strong enough to let people pass. But then, through a combination of weight that stresses the roots and their growth, the living bridge becomes stronger and stronger. I found this way of working with a plant very inspiring, especially in regard to the time that is allowed to pass and the manner of constructing with a plant as it is. The otherness of the plant – here in form of growth speed – is accepted as it is the key for a stable construction.

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a gardeners perspektive /// As he is striving towards a similar interaction with plants, I will share the thoughts of Gilles ClĂŠmont and his perspective on the world as a planetary garden. He also comments on how he approaches an interaction with plants in his text The Garden in Motion (ClĂŠmont n.d).

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* the planetary garden The Planetary Garden is a concept which views as a solidly entwined knot -the diversity of human beings on the planet -the role of man in managing this diversity The concept of the Planetary Garden emerges from a triple observation: -ecological finality -planetary stirring -human engagement The notion of ecological finality dates to the middle of the twentieth century, concurrent with the ecological knowledge about our planet. The idea that the planetary biomass is limited makes life precious and precarious, incapable of eternal renewal, hence subject to depletion. Human beings, to be responsible, are therefore confronted with need to guarantee an unconscious diversity, dependent upon their acts. Furthermore, the limited enclosure upon which the future of human diversity depends becomes evident: the biosphere, a thin layer surrounding the planet, frontier of the emergence of life. The word « garden » stems from the German « Garten » which signifies “enclosure”. Historically, the garden is a place where « the best » is accumulated: the best fruits, flowers, vegetables, trees, « savoir-faire », ideas etc. The Planetary Garden is a place where all diversity subject to evolution accumulates. Today it is guided by human activity and hence in danger. Planetary stirring is the result of the incessant movement around the planet of winds, maritime currents, and animal /human transhumance, all of which mix and redistribute these travelling species. Unlike man, the only species capable of traversing all climate barriers by various means (habitat, clothing, air conditioned vehicles), plants and animals redistribute themselves according to their capacity to survive within the planet’s major climate zones (called biomes). The image of the so-called « theoretical continent », a stack of biomes assembled in a single structure, all continents combined, although virtual, expresses a biological reality today: the intermingling of new behaviour patterns, new landscapes, and occasionally new species. The garden, in its traditional sense, is a privileged site for planetary intermingling. Each garden, necessarily enhanced by species from all corners of the globe, can be looked upon as a planetary index. Each gardener can be considered an intermediary for encounters among species


not necessarily, a priori, destined to meet. Planetary stirring, originally caused by the natural interplay of the elements, increases due to human activity, in constant expansion. Human engagement applies to the level of « surveillance » of a territory under human control. In a garden, even though all is not entirely mastered, all is known. The neglected species in the garden are intentionally so, either for convenience or simplicity, but they are not necessarily undiscovered. The planet, entirely subject to inspection by satellites, can, from this point of view, be assimilated to the garden. The Planetary Garden is a means of considering ecology as the integration of man – the gardener – into its smallest spaces. It’s guiding philosophy is based on the principle of the Garden in Motion « Do the most for, the minimum against » The ultimate goal of the Planetary Garden consists of exploiting diversity without destroying it: continuing to operate the »planetary machine », making possible the existence of the garden, hence the gardener. […] (Clémont n.d a)


* the garden in motion The source of inspiration for the « Garden in Motion » is neglected land (friche): a parcel of land left behind (delaisse) to the unhindered development of those plants that settle there. On such pieces of land , the existing sources of energy – growth, struggle, shifting, exchange – do not encounter the obstacles usually set up to oblige nature to yield to geometry, to tidiness, or any other cultural principal . This energy encounters the gardener, who attempts to shape it to his advantage without altering its dynamics: « to do as much as possible for and as little as possible against » is a resume of the Garden in Motion. As with all species that sustain life – plants, animals, humans – the Garden in Motion is subject to the evolutionary process resulting from long term interaction. In this case, the Gardener’s task is to interpret these interactions in order to decide which type of « gardening » he must undertake. Which balance between shadow and light, which adjustment among the species present, with, as an objective, to maintain and increase biological diversity, a source of wonder, a guarantee for the future. This requires: maintaining and increasing the biological quality of the substrate: water, land, air and intervention with as little means as possible, limited input, water use, machines... Such a state of mind leads the gardener to observe more and garden less; to become more closely acquainted with the species and their behavior in order to make more efficient use of their natural capacities without expenditure of « contrary energy » and time. One of the most remarkable aspects in the management dynamics of the Garden in Motion is the physical displacement of life on the grounds. This rapid and spectacular displacement concerns short- cycled herbaceous specimens – annuals, semi-annuals (poppies, corn flowers, corn cockles, nigella, digitalis, verbascum, reseda, etc.) which disappear as soon as the seeds are formed. They reappear as a result of accidents on the land – turned over soil – in


all places where seed, dispersed by the wind, animals and humans manages to germinate. The name Garden in Motion originates in the physical migration of vegetal species within a given area, which the gardener interprets at will. Flowers which germinate on a path force the gardener to decide between maintaining the flowers or the path. The Garden in Motion recommends maintaining those species that decide where they wish to grow. These principles disrupt the established concepts of a garden which, in this case, is entirely placed in the hands of the gardener. The garden’s profile, constantly changing, depends on its caretaker, and not on an architectural plan, produced on a drawing table. (Clemont n.d b)


a gardeners perspective

By referring to plants life and nature as a garden, he draws attention to the degree of supposed control humans and the definite influence humans nowadays have while not being in control. He does not see humans as gardeners that should make full use of their possible influence, but to “do the maximum for, the minimum against” (Clémont n.d a). Ideally, the gardener knows about the plants living in his garden, but also gives space to them and lets them guide the process. The gardener therefore needs to interact with the plants and decide to react to them. Clémont explains one of his projects, Le Jardin en Mouvement, with the following words: “The name Garden in Motion originates in the physical migration of vegetal species within a given area, which the gardener interprets at will. Flowers which germinate on a path force the gardener to decide between maintaining the flowers or the path. The Garden in Motion recommends maintaining those species that decide where they wish to grow.” (Clémont n.d b). He spreads the thought as well in the introduction of a documentary with the title „The garden in movement“ by the japanese filmmaker Kenichi Sawazaki. Clémont introduces how he first came to think about a project like this: “The garden in movement began with this plant: Heracleum Mantegazzanium, La grande Berce. It’s a big one. And I decided to keep it but it made sort of an obstacle in the way. What do I do? Is it a weed because it’s coming on or it’s not a weed? I prefer to say it’s not and I kept it and I change my way. (Clémont 2016). By sharing this perspective on plant life and especially on an interaction and cohabitation with plant life he draws attention to a perspective that is inviting and giving space for other forms of life to expand and take the space in the shared environments they need.

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// sketching the atmosphere Sketching the atmosphere are two artistic experiments I conducted in order to explore possible interactions that are even more in sync than the interaction with nature shared by Clémont and the way of creating with plants like the root bridges. Also the thoughts shared by Goethe and Harding about an holistic perspective and the emphasize of experience and being there are emphasized with the following explorations.

[deep ecology]

An interaction, and precisely the design of an interaction, is always some kind of intervention, reshaping and shaping even if someone like Gilles Clémont consciously decides not to intervene in a manner which is deciding for the other. I wanted to explore, if it is possible to interact without intervening and especially without the possibility to influence and to control. I created situations that put the human in a position of a spectator in an environment surrounded by plants minimizing the human influence. The outcome of this experiment was totally left to the plants inseparable connection with the environment and the interaction between plant and atmosphere. It is therefore a visual comment on Emanuele Coccias perspective on plants when he is referring to them as melted with the world and what he calls the atmosphere: “One cannot separate the plant – neither physically nor metaphysically – from the world that accommodates it. It is the most intense, radical, and paradigmatic form of being in the world. “[...] Plants embody the most direct and elementary connection that life can establish with the world. [...] Under the sun or under the clouds, mixing with water and wind, their life is an endless cosmic contemplation, [...] one that accepts all their nuances to the point of melting with the world, to the point of coinciding with its very substance.” (Coccia 2019, p. 6). For someone like Coccia, the metaphysical and physical absence of a distinction between plant life and human life is very obvious, but as a distinction is deeply rooted in our traditional thinking. Thereby, a metaphysical distinction is created in our minds that is not really there, but that we refer to as if it was. Making the intermingling and the connectedness physically visible,

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[cosmic]


WHAT IF WE TAKE A STEP BACK MODIFYING SPACE ARRANGING OUR ENVIRONMENT PLANTS SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE TOWARDS A SPECTATOR WHAT IF WE START SEEING NATURE AS IT IS WITHOUT INTERVENING WHAT IF WE DISCOVER SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL PAINTINGS BY PLANTS IN COLOURS OF SUN SUBTLE SKETCHES NEVER THERE FOR MORE THAN A SPLIT SECOND NOT TANGIBLE SUBTLE SKETCHES FILLING THE SPACE BECOMING VISIBLE BY TOUCHING THE END OF EMPTYNESS

A SCENERY AS FRAGILE AS NATURE AS UNIQUE EVERYDAY AS PLANTS ITSELF NEVER THE SAME BUT ALIKE IN THEIR UNIQUENESS BE THERE AND PERCEIVE THE PATTERNS VARYING FROM BLURRY IMAGES TO SHARP TRACES SOMETIMES REMINDING ON THE SHAPE OF A PLANT WHAT IF WE SHIFT PERSPECTIVES BECOME A PART OF THIS SCENERY FILLING THE EMPTY SPACE STEPPING INTO IT UNHIDE THE UNHIDDEN SHADOWS AS WE MOVE FORWARD THE SCENERY IS SHIFTING NEVER THE SAME BUT ALIKE IN ITS UNIQUENESS WHAT IF WE DISCOVER SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL


ON DESIGN

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/// unhide The first artistic experiment I did within this way of thinking first came to be in Paris during my research for Nature & Decouvertes. I wanted to shift the perspective away from investigating plants through constructing knowledge towards an appreciation of the surrounding, the entanglednesss of little details and especially the scenery, which is created through their interaction. I noticed the performance of light and shadow that is created by the encounter of plants, wind (air) and sun. With a transparent paper screen, the light and shadow patterns are revealed and emphasized. This way of exploring the interaction between plants and their environment invites to spend time surrounded by them and be there as a spectator. It is also possible to take part in the performance of light and shadow through stepping into it and discovering the patterns through moving the paper screen through the space. To introduce, I will use the words I used back then to describe my project: “I spent a lot of time in parisian parcs, surrounded by plants and their direct environment. I discovered the beautiful details that are mostly left unnoticed in our daily life: Subtle sketches of light and shadow, created by the scenery – plants, sun and wind as the actors. I knew that this is what felt like the right way – unhide what was never hidden, but not seen. Draw attention to what is happening around us, how fascinating, beautiful and fragile our natural surrounding is.“

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humanized moss

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a cosmic sketch

/// a cosmic sketch The second experiment in this mode of thought was a less ephemeral one. It was again about the traces that the connectedness between a plant and its surrounding leaves, but instead of paying attention to the subtle performances of light and shadow, I shifted the perspective on the interaction between plant and air. In order to visualize and make that connection tangible, I attached a pen with a cord to branches of trees of different kinds. The movement created by the wind and the pen being moved through the meeting of the plant and the airflow is captured in traces left on the paper. Again, the human is not a direct part of the interaction, but inhabits more the role of a spectator. I wanted to investigate how open we are towards the thought that it is not about a plants movements it is able to create on its own, but about its connection with the elements surrounding it as they are essential to a plants life.

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// a thought The experiments shared in this chapter are seen as a proposal for paying more attention to details, spending time with and being able to encounter plants without the need of knowing, but more through an aesthetic experience. Part of it was also to depict the connectedness of plants and their environment up to the point where both melt together. This was reflected by the creation of images like a performance of light and shadow or traces left on a paper. Both of the experiments almost leave the area of an what is seen as an interaction and the human is only playing a minimal role. So the next step for me was to come back to a reflection on human-plant-interctions and a way of how one can encounter otherness as the core concept of this thesis. Proposing a shift towards a perspective where otherness is seen as a value and not neglected or complemented because of its intangibleness, I needed to create an experience that lets one step into an interaction which reflects on that. In the further process I will therefore isolate the concept of otherness and share my insides on a metaphorical comment in form of an interactive installation that enables an encounter with otherness.

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* IN SYNC. To be aware of humanness To appreciate what lies beyond To see the opaque, unfathomable To let happen To value otherness To stay with not comprehending To be comfortable with not understanding To praise the elusive


MAKING TANGIBLE

As established, plant life is in its totality hard to grasp as there is more to it than just the physical shapes and functions. This otherness surrounding plant life is mostly neglected as it confronts us with unsolvable metaphysical and phenomenological challenges. It is therefore impossible to completely bridge the gap between humans and plants, especially when trying to establish an interaction. We have to become comfortable with the notion of not fully knowing in order to see plants in a more just way.

[the intangible plant]

/ metaphorical To visualize this thought and reflect on it, I created an experience that is mainly about the notion which is created when encountering otherness. I tried to introduce a mode of attention which is not intending to grasp everything, but which is comfortable with staying with the elusive and further even values it. Central to this experiment is to place the human in a position, challenging a mindset that tries to make sense of everything and create an experience that is based on and enriched by an elusive component as this is what makes the interaction special. The following interactive installation is a metaphorical representation of a human-plant interaction. It reflects on the otherness, that will always be part of plants and therefore also in an interaction with them. In order to see plants as they are, one has to acknowledge that.

/ without plants Thereby, the installation is not physically representing or containing plants – they are not part of the created interaction nor is the context the installation is placed in. As described by Coccia and Marder and also by de Sousa Santos, the neglection of otherness in plants and the emphasize of knowledge and understanding is so encapsulated in our approach towards plants, that I decided to isolate otherness in order to be able to articulate the concept clearly. The constructed images, perceptions and the knowledge we have about plants, would create a preconceived approach towards

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[wording perceptions]


MAKING TANGIBLE

the created interactive experience. To exclude plants was therefore a conscious decision in order to completely be able to focus on an encounter with otherness. In this installation the focus is to create an interaction in a figurative sense which is similar to what an interaction with a plant could be – not completely permeable, not fully controllable, not only limited on the actants, but influencing the surrounding, unexpected in it‘s reactions.

on random / [blind]

In order to create the described experience, I reflected on Samantha Crowe, fictive SETI scientist, created by Frank Schätzing in his book The Swarm. When referring to an other intelligence she stated that as soon as something is beyond what we are able to grasp, it seems random, like a mess as the sensemaking of the other does not match human sense making. As encountering another species is similar to encountering plants insofar both are a form of life differing from the human one, an encounter with them also exceeds human perception. In both cases the otherness of the other has to be accepted in order to see it as it is. I therefore decided to play with the notion of mess and randomness. Based on that, I created an interaction where a random connection of actions and reactions creates an experience where it is impossible to fully foresee or understand which reaction will follow. Thereby I am reflecting on the difficulties in terms of non-foreseeable components in human-plant relations one is facing when an interaction with plants as they are is to be established.

input – output / Thinking about randomness and perception, I started sketching network constructions that exceed a rational connection of the single parts, letting them melt together as a whole. I kept enveloping the thought of single parts that are connected in an irrational manner further. Then I came up with the idea of a set-up where the single parts are either an input (action) or an output (reaction) randomly connected. The detection of an input would therefore be forwarded and turned into a random output. Due to the random connection between input and output, there would be no pattern, no graspable explanation and no rationality behind the reactions.

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/ the set-up In an ideal set-up the installation would be huge, containing an endless amount of inputs and outputs in order to reflect on the presence of plant life in our environment. As I am restricted in the space I can use, I decided to visualize a fraction as a representation of the whole. In order to enhance the interaction and the concept of otherness, I decided to keep the installation visually simple. The sensors and reactors are placed on a thin metal pole. The inputs are visualized through simple buttons. I decided to use touch as an input as a bodily presence and especially an engagement through touch turned out to be part of all previously explored projects and conducted experiments. The reactors are fragile bowls, balancing on the pipe, filled with water. The choice of using water and light as components is rooted in their presence and importance in a plants life. To make the reaction visible, a LED-light below the bowls is lighting up when an input is detected and forwarded to the bowl.

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the hardware / In order to realize an interaction between input and output, I chose to work with arduino. This enables to build quick circuits and program the hardware. I mainly worked with LED rings (output) and simple push buttons (input).

the code // To create the notion of a random connection between action and reaction, I worked with the function randNumber which is a generator for numbers. The input (pushed button) releases the generation of such a number which is then, according to its value, triggering one or more outputs lighting up LED ring for time X.

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int inPin1 = 0; int inPin2 = 2; int val1 = 0; int val2 = 0; int myPins[] = {4, 5, 6, 7}; const int ledPin = myPins; long interval = 1000; int cooldown = 0; int randNumber = 0; void setup() { pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT); pinMode(inPin1, INPUT); pinMode(inPin2, INPUT); Serial.begin(9600); } void loop(){ val1 = digitalRead(inPin2); val2 = digitalRead(inPin1); if (val1 == HIGH || val2 == HIGH) { randNumber = random(0, 5); delay(20); digitalWrite(myPins[randNumber],HIGH); cooldown = 130; } if (cooldown > 100) { cooldown--; if (cooldown < 110) { digitalWrite(myPins[randNumber], LOW); } } }

/// an example with LEDs

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In order to make the principle clear I used to program the installation, I hereby share an example. To simplifiy it, I reduced the normally five inputs and five outputs to two buttons (inputs) and 4 LEDs ( outputs). The code on the page before is the code used to run this example. For the final installation the LEDs are swaped out with LED rings. 112


an example with LEDs

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This is an example of how a action-reaction relation could look like. One button is pressed (yellow circle), a random number between zero and four is generated and the according output pin is triggered leading to the lighting up of one or more LEDs (according to generated number â&#x20AC;&#x201C; blue circle). The cooldown function is used so that a new input can be detected while the LEDs are still lit up from the loop before. 113


/ same same but different I chose to work with randNumber because it is only a pseudo random number generator. That means that there is a pattern which is repeated after an X amount of loops. As it takes a lot of loops to repeat the pattern, it appears random to us as we are not able to remember every single combination. This random appearance in contrast to the fact that it is not actually random holds a similarity to our perception of plant life: After interacting with the installation for a while, one might determine that its reactions are random. This complementation of a gap of understanding with assumptions is similar of what we do to explain plant life. Disregarding what we are not able to perceive and complementing it with what we think we know leads to possibly false assumptions or a reflection of the thing as we think it is, but not as it is in itself. Although this complementations – concerning the installation on one and plants on the other hand – are superficially similar, they are very different in their totality. As a code is something human made and therefore following our logic, an accurate examination would lead to its full understanding. Plants will always be surrounded by a layer that is elusive to us, no matter how close we look – possibly the otherness even gets bigger the closer we are as we don‘t see the plant in itself, but through a mode of projection. Therefore the installation is also not really a figuratively represented interaction between human and plants, but more the creation of an illusion of it.

/ on otherness Next to the appreciation of otherness as they lead to a surprising reactions every single time, I also see this installation as a comment on how we difficult it is to establish a relation and interaction with plants. As the otherness is impossible to bridge, it will always be part of an encounter. Especially the design of an interaction is mostly intended, wants to be controlled and follows a goal in one way or another. With plants this is somewhat impossible to achieve as the interaction itself is not controllable if we stay with seeing the plant as it is. If we would be able to achieve a mutual interaction, we would have lost the plants totality on the way. The choice of creating an inter-

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[modes of perception]


MAKING TANGIBLE

action which is based on pseudo randomness is therefore also a comment on the senselessness of striving towards a mutual encounter with plants.

// fragility, connectedness, cosmic Not only on a metaphorical level, but also on a more physical level is this installation intending to relate to a human-plant encounter. In a way it is a recreated image of an interaction. The possibility of stepping in and being an interactive part is commenting on the supposed control we have over nature. In a small scale we can make decisions and intervene, but regarding the whole, these interventions are possibly impossible to control. Moving through the installation has to be thoughtful as the water bowls only balance on the thin metal pipes. This caution is to be part of every encounter with another species. Not only the thing itself is effected by an interaction, but it also mirrors in the whole room as the light projects the waters movements on the surrounding. In the end, the connection of action and reaction as well as the physical connection of the parts and the relation between thing and surrounding reflects on the interconnections of plants with their environment â&#x20AC;&#x201C; leading to a cosmic whole that one can hopefully emerge in when interacting with the installation. * As the finial installation will be set up in Cologne for the first time, after this thesis has been printed, the following pictures only show experts from the whole picture. The final installation will be presented life.

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OTHERNESS WHAT IF IT IS NOT AS YOU THOUGHT DIFFERENT THAN EXPECTED THERE BUT ONLY IN ITS APPEARANCE UNTOUCHABLE WHAT LIES BEYOND THE SHAPE STRIVING TO KNOW BUT LOST IN WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW

A TOUCH THE SCENERY SHIFTS THEN THE SCENERY SHIFTS AGAIN BUT DIFFERENT UNABLE TO CONTROL OR FULLY GRASP APPRECIATE WHAT LIES BEYOND NOT KNOWING KNOWING THAT KNOWING IS NOT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT


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AN EXHIBITION

This thesis tells in a way the story of otherness as a factor in human-plant relation and interaction. In order to be able to tell the story without requiring to read this thesis, I decided to reflect on the context of an exhibition and how that could be used to communicate the thoughts. As the goal is to provoke a discussion, I needed to think about how to make the quite complex thoughts this thesis is based on tangible so that viewers can engage with them easily and discussions can be raised. I decided to communicate the thoughts mainly through their visual comment. As the visual research was mostly on movement, video projections are used to bring in this dimension. The intellectual change of perspective is introduced by a physical change of perspective as the videos are projected on knee hight. In order to fully see, one has to move down. The videos are all accompanied by a quote and a short introduction which represents the thought they are commenting on. The quotes and the additional text is installed on the floor which is once again requiring a physical change of perspective. / unhide will be accompanied by some additional visual research in from of analogue pictures I took of shadow and light filtered by plants. To complete / a cosmic sketch, I will showcase a selection of the sketches that were produced during the exploration in addition to its video documentation. On the following pages, I put together a brief exhibition catalogue to show the connection ot thought (quote and comment) and their visual representation. I also included a layout of how the exhibition would ideally be structured. * * As the finial exhibition will be set up in Cologne for the first time, after this thesis has been printed, the following pictures only show experts from the whole picture. The final exhibition will be presented life.

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OUT OF SYNC.

thoughts on human-plant relations


/ ABOUT THE EXHIBITION


Plants. They are part of almost every environment, they nurture us and create an atmosphere which enables human life. Despite this basic correlations, that human life depends on, they are mostly considered as the least of beings and mostly neglected. In addition, their form of life, that is at the same time present in every environment and elusive for human perception, makes plant life hard to grasp. As traditional science contributed to a reductive perspective and constructed a world-view that is based on knowledge and understanding, plants inhabit an inbetween stage of subject and object, inanimate and animate. The preference of knowing over not knowing and the preference of the notion of sameness towards otherness leads to a perspective that is approaching plant life in a manner which is reductive in many ways. In the design praxis, the attention shifts more and more away from a mere anthropocentric focus towards the inclusion of others in the design process. In interaction design research the focus mostly lies on e.g. understanding plant life through revealing their way of communicating, making them tangible through mapping movement or turning them into an interface by using their electric potential. Most of these approaches have in common that they are exploring plant life in a manner that draws more attention to a human narrative then to a plants one. Not their very own form of being is in focus, but an abstraction, a through knowledge constructed image, graspable for us. This leads to a neglection of all their elusiveness, that are equally important in the world and that make a plant a plant. Through a collection of different perspectives that are raising emergent questions around this topic, this exhibition is a reflection on the current relation and interaction between humans and plants. It is proposing a shift towards a more inclusive, less anthropocentric and reductive perspective and invites to encounter with the otherness of plants, approaching them as a whole and not only the human-accesible parts.


/ humanized


â&#x20AC;&#x153;The mistake usually has its source in [â&#x20AC;Ś] that we are often more delighted with the idea than with the thing itself. Or perhaps we should say we take pleasure in a thing in so far as we form an idea of it and when it fits to our way of looking.â&#x20AC;? (Goethe 1792) Humanized reflects on the current manner of projecting ones own features in order to understand something else. Through comparison, we are always in search for similarities connecting us with other species that enable us to relate to them more easily. What happens when this praxis of perception through projection is exaggerated? Does human-possible movement turns the plant into a being that we can more easily relate to? And most importantly, how much of a plants being gets lost in this approach?


/ sketching the atmosphere


â&#x20AC;&#x153;[...] Plants embody the most direct and elementary connection that life can establish with the world. [...] Under the sun or under the clouds, mixing with water and wind, their life is an endless cosmic contemplation, [...] one that accepts all their nuances to the point of melting with the world, to the point of coinciding with its very substance.â&#x20AC;? (Coccia 2019, p. 6) A plant is always part of an environment in which it is deeply rooted. Not able to change its position, the plant is exposed to its immediate surrounding like no other being. This deep physical connection elaborates into how a plant is. Inseparably connected, up to a point that Coccia referrs to as a melting with the world. An artistic exploration lead to the discovery of the performance of light and shadow as well as the unhiding of the traces left by wind and plant, reflecting in a metaphorical and physical way on a plants connectedness with its environment. At the same time, these two explorations invite to shift the attention towards a mode of participation and subjective experiences in order to broaden ones perception and relation to plants. Both explorations were conducted during time spend surrounded by plants and a mode of attention that Goethe referred to as active looking. A perception that is not guided by oneself but by what is there to perceive.


/ an encounter with otherness


â&#x20AC;&#x153;To get in touch with the existence of plants one must acquire a taste for the concealed and the withdrawn, including the various meanings of the existence that are equally elusive and inexhaustible.â&#x20AC;? (Marder 2013, 28)

Traditional philosophy, science and the western culture created a perspective that rates knowledge and measurable means higher than not knowing and subjective experiences. Thereby we forget that our human perspective is only enabling us to see what lies within the borders of human perception. Whatever lies beyond is neglected, perceived as a mess and not valued which causes a reductive perception and devaluation of our surrounding. In order to be able to reflect on our surrounding in a non-reductive manner, one has to be comfortable with and aware of ones borders of perception. Especially in an interaction with plants, the relation between action and reaction can not be fully controlled and predicted and is never fully graspable. This interactive installation is introducing this notion as an enriching component in an interaction. How does is an interaction of this kind perceived? Can an interaction be imagined with another that is not graspabel in its totality?


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/ the exhibition


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LAST WORDS

I began researching for this thesis and writing it with the aim of establishing a relation between humans and plants through a mutual interaction. I intended to bridge the gap dividing us in many different layers. While researching, I realized that this gap is much more important to sustain and emphasize than to bridge. I learned that the mere approach of an intended interaction bridging this gap can cause and further contribute to the neglection of how a plant really is supporting a reductive representation and perspective. Bridging the gap always means complementing what we are not able to grasp and understand with something for us accessible (perceivable movement, audible reactions etc.) which is especially for interaction design a popular entry point. Plants are turned into musicians or interfaces through making use of their electric potential. Complementing something always induces the replenishing of something â&#x20AC;&#x201C; in our eyes â&#x20AC;&#x201C; incomplete so that it suits our mode of projection. As this is not an approach that leaves room for a plant to be a plant, but only for a plant to be as we want the plant to be, a new question emerged: How do we approach a relation and mutual interaction if the actants are not graspable in its totality for each other? Before I go deeper into that, I have to say that this conclusion cannot really be a conclusion as the topic is too vast to possibly be grasped by a format like this. As mentioned in the beginning this thesis looked into the roots of the current mode of perception and tried to establish an understanding what lead us to this thought. Through proposing alternative thoughts and through a visual research that intends to make the complex thoughts tangible, it also intended to open up for another way of thinking that I hope to hereby introduce and spread. This thesis is therefore to be seen as the starting point of a research, in a way an introduction into a question that needs to be raised and discussed. Therefore, I will not be able to fully conclude on the previously raised question, but I will be able to conclude on how this work contributed to an approximation of its answering. A key concept in this thesis is the one of otherness. As described, a plant is mostly approached through the complementation of its intangible, hidden, and otherly characteristics through rendering them visible or replenishing

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them with what we are able to perceive. This act of humanizing the plant, squeezing it into our perception, induces a loss of what a plant actually is. Traditional western science as well as a plants representation in language contribute to this reduction of perspective. Through a further distinction between human and natural in science and language, a ruptured intellectual representation is introduced that creates the illusion of distinct worlds. Based on knowledge, measurable means and definition, this perspective does not leave much room for phenomena that are hard to grasp in its totality, that are elusive for human perception and that are surrounded by a seemingly disturbing otherness. In this human way of perceiving this world â&#x20AC;&#x201C; wherein we make sense through palpating unknown things, unconsciously comparing them with what we already know, leaving little space for the unknown and elusive â&#x20AC;&#x201C; plants are not easily put into categories and are hardly tangible on a physical as well as on a metaphysical level. This leads to an approach of plant life wherein similarities are valued more than differences as they are easier to relate to and wherein otherness is avoided. The intangibleness of plants leads for them to be seen as the least of beings and to their reduction of a mere material for humankind to exploit. Therefore, the neglection of otherness is insofar especially problematic as we perceive plants in comparison to us as less complex. That leads to a perspective which is not only reductive, but also reduces the value we award plants with in the interconnection of beings. Although an ecological literate thought is slowly emergent, we still relate to nature and especially plants as something subordinated that can be controlled, squeezed and moulded and measured to unleash its secrets. This approach neglects that plant life might be equally valuable â&#x20AC;&#x201C; we forget that plants are enabling human life by creating an atmosphere that we are able to life in. In order to make project these thoughts to a more easily graspable format, each core concept was linked to a visual and artistic exploration. The first experiments, that were a visualization of the current approach towards a relation and interaction wherein plants were humanized in terms of movement. A pine branch and moss were interactively animated with

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movements that mirrored different degrees of humanness (breathing – contracting – vibrating) in order to examine the reactions. It turned out that the breathing movement caused compassion and a stronger relation to the moss whereas the vibrating movements were harder to relate to and were seen as torturing machines. This reflects on how strong we relate to something similar to us even if we are aware that this movement is not more than a low-tech animation caused by us. It renders visible how strong modes of projection are rooted in our perception. The second experiment opened up towards the perspectives of Michael Marder and Emanuele Coccia, commenting of the entangledness of a plant and its environment up to a perspective that does not distinct between them anymore and referrers to their entangledness as atmosphere. Reflecting on this interplay and interaction between plants and their environment – or the whole as one might say as well – these artistic exploration turned them visible as traces on paper. Next to Coccia and Marder, also the thoughts of Goethe and Harding were picked up as both refer to experiences in the direct surrounding of plants as the most powerful way to experience them. Both experiments speak about a tension between the disturbance and fascination that we have for something that is not easy to explain. The wonders surrounding plant life clearly effect us and create an attention. In order to come closer to what this otherness is that is catching our attention, I created a final experiment based on the first two explorations. As the mode of attention with which we currently encounter plants is not leaving much room for their otherness and its neglection is so encapsulated in our thinking, it is hard to look beyond what we were shaped to see. Especially when encountering plant life, the things we know overshadow the elusive as well as science overshadows experiences. Therefore, I decided to concept an encounter with otherness free from the preconceived images plants cause in our minds. As a result, plants were not part of this last experiment. Isolating otherness and creating an experience that enables us to see the value of it as it surrounds us with something unexpected that we don’t have to explain or understand, lead to the final installation. The choice of material and set-up where based on emphasizing this experience of otherness, not distracting, but enhancing its pseudo random reactions that enable an experience

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which is enriched by otherness. Thereby, I tried to show how an interaction can gain value because of its elusiveness and uncontrollable reactions. To return to the question that lead me through my research asking how the establishing of a relation and mutual interaction between two actants not graspable for each other, I will now try and conclude. What I learned from this research is that we have to be aware of the borders of our perception and the world that lies beyond the human-perceivable world, a world which I called otherness in this thesis. I hope that this thesis contributed to a perspective that is more open towards this world, shifting towards a mind-set that is open towards this otherness. I believe that this is a key factor in approaching the current relation between humans and environment which is clearly out of sync. Ideally, one stops the distinction between species based on their otherness and starts to see this world as an entangled one. Ideally, one starts blurring the lines we intellectually made up and starts merging the worlds back together as a whole. One can start with a walk in the forest, paying attention to all the wonders and little details in the surrounding, the performances of light and shadow and the interconnections between the various species, which we are a part of.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Dunne, Anthony and Raby, Fiona (2013): Speculative Everything. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ethnobiology (n.d): The Root Bridges of Cherrapunji â&#x20AC;&#x201C; centuries-old bridges, grown from tangled roots. s.l.: s.n, [online], http://www.ethnobiology.net/ root-bridges-cherrapunji-centuries-old-bridges-grown-tangled-roots/ [2019-0326]. Feige, Daniel (2018): Design. Eine philosophische Analyse. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag. Harding, Stephan (2006): Animate Earth. Cambridge: Green Books Ltd. Heidegger, Martin (1962): Being and time. New York: Harper & Row. Irwin, Terry; Tonkinwise, Cameron; Kossoff, Gideon (2015): Transition Design: An Educational Framework for Advancing the Study and Design of Sustainable Transitions. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University [online], https://www. academia.edu/15283122/Transition_Design_An_Educational_Framework_for_Advancing_the_Study_and_Design_of_Sustainable_Transitions_presented_at_the_ STRN_conference_2015_Sussex_ [2019-03-26]. Marder, Michael (2013): Plant-Thinking. A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. Columbia: Columbia University Press. Marder, Michael (2015): How to Breathe and Feel with Plants. s.l., s.n., [online], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSgepDOWw3g [2019-03-26]. Oxforddictionaries (n.d): Interaction. s.l., s.n., [online], https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/interaction [2019-03-27]. Plumwood, Val (2002): Environmental Culture: The ecological Crisis of Reason. Oxon, Routledge. Schätzing, Frank (2007): The Swarm. [e-book reader], s.l., William Morrows Paperback.

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Seamon, David (2005): Goethe’s Way of Science as a Phenomenology of Nature. Kansas State University, [online] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253658801_Goethe‘s_Way_of_Science_as_a_Phenomenology_of_Nature [2019-03-26]. Sommerer, Christa und Mignonneua, Laurent (1992a): Interactive Plant Growing. Karlsruhe, ZKM Media Museum [online], http://www.interface.ufg.ac.at/ christa-laurent/WORKS/CONCEPTS/PlantsConcept.html [2019-03-26]. Sommerer, Christa und Mignonneua, Laurent (1992b): Interactive Plant Growing. Karlsruhe, ZKM Media Museum [online], https://www.digitalartarchive.at/ database/general/work/interactive-plant-growing.html [2019-03-26]. Sterling, Stephen (2003): Whole Systems. Thinking as a Basis for Paradigm Change in Education. PhD, University of Bath, [online], http://www.bath.ac.uk/ cree/sterling/sterlingthesis.pdf [2019-03-27]. Tobler, Christian (1783): Natur. In: Goethe’s Werke. Hamburger Ausgabe, Band 13, Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften I, Munich, Verlag C. H. Beck. p. 45ff [online] http://www.gah.vs.bw.schule.de/leb1800/natur.htm [2019-03-26]. Tobler, Christian (1869): Nature (Huxley, Thomas Henry trans.). In: Nature. A weekly illustrated journal of science. s.l, s.n, [online], https://www.nature.com/ articles/001009a0.pdf [2019-03-26]. Voegelin, Salomé (2018): The Political Possibility of Sound: Fragments of Listening. Bloomsburry Academic & Professional [e-book], https://ebookcentral. proquest.com/lib/konstfack/detail.action?docID=5568573&query=salome+voegelin [2019-03-26]. Von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (2010): The Experiment as Mediator of Object and Subject (Holdrege, Craig trans.). In: Context #24, The Nature Instituite, pp. 19-23, [online] http://natureinstitute.org/pub/ic/ic24/ic24_goethe.pdf [2019-0326].

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LIST OF FIGURES

1

http://beallcenter.uci.edu/exhibitions/christa-sommerer-la rent-mignonneau

2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iP6TQVEn04M

3

(https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations asia/india/living-root-bridges-clean-village-mwalynnong-india/)

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DECLARATION OF AUTHORSHIP

I hereby declare that the present bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s thesis was composed by myself and that the work contained herein is my own. I also confirm that I have only used the specified resources. All formulations and concepts taken verbatim or in substance from printed and unprinted material or from the internet have been cited according to the rules of good scientific practice and indicated by footnotes or other exact references to the original source. KĂśln, 17.04.2019

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BA thesis Interaction Design / Köln International School of Design / Prof. Dr. Lasse Scherrfig Design Research / Konstfack / Prof. Dr. Mart...

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BA thesis Interaction Design / Köln International School of Design / Prof. Dr. Lasse Scherrfig Design Research / Konstfack / Prof. Dr. Mart...

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