Holmgren Domain: Education and Culture
Be a plant-human hybrid and interact with people to provide a two minute nature connection as part of the experimental project Through the Far-See-Er by Sam Bunn.
A darkened space with projections of redwood forest canopy and slime mold moving across soil and mulch. Living and dried plants made shadows. The Plant Woman (me) was dressed in green with a crown of leaves and ivy which in turn added foliage shadows across the video footage. In the background a choir made forest noises.
In the final iteration I silently greeted participants. I invited them to sit down and offered the participants a leaf of their choice (saltwort Salsola soda, tulsi Ocimum tenuiflorum, peppermint Mentha × piperita). Together we listened to our leaves, feel their touch on our skin, smelt and ate them. I then showed a selection of seeds, bones, twigs and shells which represented natural patterns. Some participants chose to take a pattern of their choice.
Sam Bunn asked me to be a “plant woman” for his Through the Far-See-Er art project. Sam’s art practice responds to the lack of eutopian 1 representations in popular culture, especially mainstream film. Over the past two years he has produced two performances that invite audience members and participants to imagine a better world. In 2017 I was part of the Utopian Choir as part of the True Blue News performance.
Through the Far-See-Er was Sam’s final Masters of Arts project. The appointment-only experiments took place over 6-9 September, 2018 during the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria.
A set was created within the Architektur Forum Oberösterreich (AFO) included a fold out temple, fake tram, office space, forest and living room. 13 participants were led through the half-hour experience, interacting with improvising performers, a choir, playing video games and eating food. These experiences were intended to provoke ideas of a better world and encourage the participants to think more about the messages of the future they receive from popular culture.
My “Plant Woman” performance fit between a sequence about livelihoods, automation and good work and a childhood memory experience.
- Contribute to Sam’s performance
- Connect with participants
- Produce no / minimal waste
- Have fun
The development of the Plant Woman set and performance was iterative, but the main phases of development can be described with the SADIMET framework.
sketches, interviews, Pinterest pinboard, nature observation, rehearsals, costume experiments, sample crowns, You Tube playlist
I questioned Sam about his vision for the Plant Woman. I observed what clothing and fabric resources I had. I also drew on my collection of natural pattern objects (seeds, shells etc) and plants growing wild on the street, our apartment courtyard and the borders of Leisenhofgärtnerei.
Both Sam and I made sketches. I tested out how to make foliage crowns and attempted to make fabric roots. I chose to hide my feet and used a scrap of green-brown cloth to make a “trunk”.
I provided Sam with a playlist of timelapse videos for the backdrop.
- Overdye a damaged dress to make it bright green
- Use AFO’s fake grass carpet tiles to cover the floor
- Collaborate with Sebastian Six setup the video projection
- Gather cuttings of plants and made a plant crown each day
- Switch on video projectors
- Get into costume and character
- Interact with the Far-See-Er participants as they move through the space
Significant maintenance was not required. However the living plants needed to be watered and had the project extended I would have also needed to light the plants.
Lighting could have been achieved by having a second set of houseplants to rotate into the exhibition. Alternatively artificial grow lights could have been used. I prefer the idea of having a second set of houseplants available as this seems lower impact and would give me more plants in my life.
I loved making plant crowns each day they were looking quite wilted by the evening. Had I needed to keep the crowns fresher for longer I would consider choosing different plants. Research showed that plants like magnolia have heavier, longer lasting leaves which could be preserved with glycerin.
The space felt “wild” compared to the rest of the set. Other contributors enjoyed the space and gave positive feedback. One participant gave me a very excellent hug. I felt calmer due to being immersed in nature. Karin and Sam came through and gave feedback after the first day. Based on this my character didn’t speak with the participants but only used body language.
Improvised performances are always a continual process of observing and responding. Tweaks that took place included improvising scripts for each participant (day 1), remaining silent (day 2, 3), giving participants the leaf before inviting pattern observation (day 3).
Ethics and Principles
Minimise harm to local ecologies (use plants that would otherwise be pruned) and promote nature connection to participants of the Far-See-Er experience.
Support participants and project colleagues feeling of wellbeing and nature connection. Respond to the needs and feedback of people within the confine of the Plant Woman experience. Provide snacks and support for Sam and project colleagues.
I donated my time and efforts to Sam’s project
Application of the Permaculture Principles
Observe and Interact
- worked from Sam’s sketches
- created a Pinterest board of ideas,
- observed plants available for trimming
- made test crowns
- observed project participants responses
Catch and Store Energy
- used plants from nature instead of plastic plants
- used time between participant interaction to reflect
- damaged plants were used to start new plants
Obtain A Yield
- increase personal happiness from project involvement
- made new acquaintances and strengthened friendships
- provoked thoughts of eutopian nature connections in participants
- got hugs
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
- paid attention to Sam and Karen’s stage directions and adjustments
- adjusted performance depending on participant’s reactions
Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
- used natural plants rather than artificial
- goal of project was to encourage increased connection and respect for nature
Produce No Waste
- set used fabric i already owned, AFO fake lawn
- costume was existing clothing
- plant crowns and sets were composted or used as celebration fuel
- encouraged Sam to buy fabric with maximum reuse potential
- salvaged cable ties in clean up process
Design from Patterns to Details
- repeated the plant crown process day by day
- plants in sets increased each day
- improvisation – had a rough framework of interactions but customised for each participant
- acknowledge my energetic rhythms
- used natural patterns (shells, seeds, bones) in ritual process
Integrate Rather Than Segregate
- became better friends with collaborators especially Fabian
- made the performance part of my life rather than an “extra” thing
- felt much closer to nature due to the experience
Use Small and Slow Solutions
- made small experimental crowns (kept) and some roots (not continued)
- minimal work for most impact – used projectors to fill space with light rather than trying to build props
- silent performance meant that my gestures had to mean a lot
Use and Value Diversity
- incorporated a diversity of plant species into crowns and set
- all guests were valued and interacted with differently
Use Edges and Value the Marginal
- the nature space was a bridge to the woody tunnel to childhood
- used fabric wall shapes to create a skewed projection effect which wrapped the space
- I wore my full costume out of the venue and visited my favourite cafe and sat in a park.
- connections with Fabian – sharing food
Creatively Use and Respond to Change
- each experiment evolved the layout of the space and informed my next performance
- some interactions required quick thinking such as responding to a hug, or giving a natural pattern away if a participant wanted to keep it.
Morton, Timothy. Being Ecological. MIT Press, 2018.
- shared progress photos on Instagram
- I met new people and strengthened friendships.
Evaluation and Costings
- €5 for green dye and salt
- Sam uses eutopia a good place (Greek) in contrast to utopia no such place. ↩