Soft Turns watering Arabidopsis IV & plant/pixel, installation view, 8eleven Gallery, Toronto, 2018.
Photos : courtesy of the artists

A Vegetal Odyssey

Tak Pham
“How can Arabidopsis thaliana, a small wild weed, carry the future of humans into space?” This is one of the guiding questions in a three- year research residency that artist collective Soft Turns undertook at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. The collective, formed of long-time collaborators and partners Wojciech Olejnik and Sarah Jane Gorlitz, has taken an interest in plants as a continuation of its ongoing curiosity about the subtle relationship between the foreign and the familiar within our immediate everyday experience. The multi-channel video installation Fluorescence (2015) marks the collective’s first exploration of botany on a microscopic scale. It features an image montage of plant cells, excerpted from eight editions of the textbook Biology of Plants (1970–ongoing). The images are illuminated by the light emitted from a laptop screen at an intensity level close to the minimum required for natural photosynthesis to occur.

Fluorescence provokes an uncanny reckoning with our knowledge of the plant realm and the extent to which human technology, innovation, and artificial interferences have exerted their visualization power in order to magnify these microscopic images. Through the iridescent footage of the plant cells, Soft Turns suggests a dormant potential in plants that could propel a quantum leap in the sciences, as well as knowledge of how plants were and have been used as a means to understand and subsequently colonize different parts of the world. In 2016, Soft Turns landed on Arabidopsis thaliana, a small, agriculturally insignificant weed that has played a key role in humans’ drive to colonize space.

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This article also appears in the issue 99 - Plants

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