Alicia Nauta & Joële Walinga In The Same Breath, Rejection and Ice Cream on the Wood Shed, video still, 2018.
Photo : courtesy of the artists

The Question of Plant Consciousness in Contemporary Art

Emma Lansdowne
As a professional horticulturalist-turned-academic, I spend much of my time reflecting upon my own relationship with plants and the nature-oriented practices around which my life revolves. Over the last few years, I have begun to notice a distinct trend toward art that employs plants and gardens as vehicles to express, explore, uncover, and/or confront the emotional, political, and social turmoil of our past, present, and future. In the last three years I have become increasingly compelled by scientific research that makes a case for plant consciousness, communication, and agency and the implications of such research for how we as humans make use of, interact with, and understand the vegetal world. That plants may display sentience and self- awareness brings into question whether there should be an ethical re-evaluation of our relationship with plants, a relationship which has, in the Euro-Western tradition, been defined largely according to how plants may be of use to us economically, medicinally, and aesthetically.

With this in mind, I would like to use this article to consider, albeit briefly, whether the establishment of plant consciousness necessitates an ethics of consent regarding the use of plants — living, dead, representational — in works of art, and, if so, what that might look like, and, whether art can be an effective medium for exploring the potentialities of interspecies living by calling into question our anthropocentric understanding of and relationship with plants.

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This article also appears in the issue 99 - Plants

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