This SSHRC funded project entangles the genres of multispecies anthropology and sensory anthropology. It is part of a larger study of the “ecology of practices” (Stengers, 2010) among artists and scientists who experiment with plant sensoria in their laboratories, studios, and performance spaces. These practitioners explore how plants participate actively in their worlds through finely tuned sensory systems. Contemporary scientists examine how plants transduce chemical and electrical signals through their tissues, and track the range of volatile compounds plants synthesize and release in order to communicate in multispecies ecologies. Contemporary artists also experiment with plants, tracking tropisms, temporalities, and electrical conductance through a variety of filmic and electro-acoustic media.
While these experiments have historical precedence in 19th century inquiries into plant movement and responsivity, this work is also hooked into the emerging field of “plant neurobiology,” which models plant sensation and perception on animal nervous systems. As such they recall the ethos and aesthetics of the 1973 publication The Secret Life of Plants, which directed audiences already attuned to the paranormal to consider plant “agency” and “intelligence”.
This research examines this enduring lure of plant agency by exploring practitioners’ sensory encounters with plants. It tracks the configuration of bodies, apparatuses, theories of sensation, and sentiments in experiments designed to elicit and amplify plant response to stimuli. How do call-and-response modes of experimentation affectively entangle practitioners with their plants? And, how might such encounters shift contemporary conversations on the senses to consider what could be called the “moral and affective ecologies” of sensation?