Foresta-Inclusive is research-creation infrastructure that proposes to make perceptible to the human senses, the slow and subtle movements of trees and surrounding ecology of the forest in the creation of a number of interactive art installations designed to ask questions such as: What does it mean to be alive and have agency?; How can we re-train ourselves to slow down and listen to voices that have been marginalized for millennia?; What does it mean to be in dialogue with something that does not share the same language nor temporal reality?; and once we acknowledge the ‘aliveness’ of something, what are the ethical implications of that recognition? This project is geared towards listening and learning from these voices and finding ways to engage with the public with the intention of rethinking and re-situating our relationship with the natural world.
The Foresta-Inclusive infrastructure is comprised of three sculptural sensor pods or ecosensors, that link the ecosystem of a forest to different in-gallery installations. The sculptural sensor pods can be installed in different forests, unobtrusively onto the trunk of (a) tree(s). These pods are WIFI enabled and sense phenomenon such as: soil temperature, soil humidity, particulate matter in the air (.1 μm – 10 μm), light level, air temperature/humidity, wind, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), C02, and rain. These ecosensors send live data to an Internet of Things platform (IoT), which can be harvested and materialized in any location in the world.
As impetus for the sculptural form of this work, I am inspired by the mutualistic relationship between protozoa that lives in the stomach of the termite. The termite is not capable of digesting cellulose, and the protozoa, in exchange for a safe place to live, breaks down the cellulose for easy digestion. Similar to the protozoa, we need the forest to sustain our lives – but what does the forest need from us? Perhaps it requires recognition of its ‘aliveness’ and a place in society that sees trees as individuals and affords them protection and rights recognised by law. This work recognises that different cultures (specifically Indigenous cultures worldwide) do not share the Western humancentric position of the inferiority of plants and nature as a lifeless resource for exploitation, but rather see nature as possessing more-than-human intelligence, consider plants and trees as individuals, and understand that plant, animal and human realms interpenetrate and share both heritage and substance. Foresta-Inclusive is deeply inspired by the wisdom of this perspective and strives to offer experiences that use technology as a tool to place human and non-human into a dialogical relationship, where both voices are equal despite perceived differences (temporal reality, im/mobility, non/verbal).
The data collected by these sensing pods forms the foundation of a number of artworks that materialize this data both independently and with collaborators. The goal of the Foresta-Inclusive infrastructure is to translate the different types of natural, physical, and chemical phenomena experienced (wind, atmospheric pressure), produced (VOC), and consumed (CO2, Rain, light) by trees, into interactive immersive installations and networked sculptures. The artworks generated by the infrastructure will simultaneously express the complexity and liveliness of the ecosystem of the forest, while at times allowing the public to engage and co-create experience. This work is not designed to replace real life experiences within the forest, but rather to create the context for perceiving, intellectualizing, materializing and understanding the liveliness and intelligence embedded within the naturalized Other, as a way of initiating a deeper sense of empathy and understanding of the workings of more-than-human minds.
Under the umbrella of the Foresta-Inclusive research project I have created a number of creative probes – all designed to rethink human/non-human relationships. The work under this umbrella encompasses my work as a curator, artist researcher, and works of other artists and researchers also interested in similar questions. Initiatives include:
The SLOlab: Sympoietic Living Ontologies Lab is an interdisciplinary research-creation laboratory that supports the creation of artworks, creative probes, and critical technological investigations that draw attention to complexity and the interconnections found in and around (non) human engagement within the world. This lab is located at York University in Toronto, ON. CA.
The more-than-human is a group show of media artworks at the intersection of art, science, Indigenous world views and technology. The works in the show speculatively and poetically use multimodal storytelling as a vehicle for interpreting, mattering, and embodying more-than-human ecologies, with the goal of critically and emotionally engaging with the important work of de-centering the human, even while the viewer is that human.
The sculptural sensor pod fed projects, which have been installed in different forests in the UK and Canada. The collected data is used in a number of different projects including:
Web Article: Aranha, Mickal. "This art installation shows you what a tree is feeling in real time." https://www.cbc.ca/arts/this-art-installation-shows-you-what-a-tree-is-feeling-in-real-time-1.6106192 [On-line: July 19, 2021].
An Vu: for assistance and duplicating my sensor pods,
Ilze (Kavi) Briede: for 3D modelling my designs,
Special thanks to:
Joël Gähwiler for developing Shiftr.io
For financial support:
"Environments of Change" Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
School of Art, Media, Performance and Design, York University, Toronto, ON. CA.