Nature as Practice, Conversations Across Art, Science, Ecology and Everyday Life

August 1 - 3, 2014

Nature as Practice is a six session interdisciplinary symposium collaboration between the School of Art
Design and Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore
(NUS) Museum and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG). Curated by Lucy Davis and Shabbir Hussein Mustafa in
conjunction with the NUS Museum exhibition.

Morning Address, August 2, 2014

Paper Title: Bio-Art: Insights into the Lives of Plants

Author: Vibeke Sorensen, Professor and Chair, School of Art, Design and Media, NTU

Abstract: Danish architect and urban planner Steen Eiler Rasmussen once said “green is good for the eyes.” What this means is that by incorporating green plants and nature into our designs, we foster a more beautiful and liveable environment. The idea is that aesthetics and sustainability are intrinsically linked.

We are dependent on plants in order to breathe and eat. Yet human beings have irreversibly altered the earth’s ecosystem and devastated rainforests, considered the lungs of the planet, resulting in what the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) scientific experts referred to as a potentially catastrophic human induced mass extinction of species.  In the early 2000s, the MEA reported that within 100 years, about 50% of plant and animal species will be extinct. Only five years later, the MEA updated their prediction to say that the rate of extinction has increased dramatically.  And five years after that, they said it had increased even more. With global warming and changes to our atmosphere, one of the key questions is whether or not we will have enough rain and oxygen for life to survive. It has become urgent to address the causes and redirect human activities, including by changing our lifestyles and cultures accordingly.  The fact that so much destruction of life has taken place in the name of progress exposes the ultimate folly and tragic consequences of our limited knowledge and respect for the larger family of life on planet Earth.

What can we do? It has been said that the 20th century was the century of animal science, leading to important cures and medicines that extend and improve human life, and that the 21st will be the century of plants. While we acknowledge that plants provide the air we breathe every second of every day, we nevertheless know very little about why and how they do what they do, how we affect them, and consequently how better to live in harmony with them. What plants “know” and how they communicate with each other and the environment, including us, is still largely a mystery. Advances in plant physiology, chronobiology, and even quantum mechanics are catalysing inspired investigations. In science as in art, new theories and practical advances result from both methodical experiment and creative leaps. New insights into the livesof plants are coming to light through visionary scientific and artistic activity, and ethical and imaginative bridging with diverse media and technologies. They can help us to address and possibly solve some of the pressing issues facing us and provide alternative approaches to our individual and collective behaviour. This talk will provide an overview of creative work being done by artists and scientists from around the world in this exciting, and possibly urgent, new field.