Becoming-with vegetal: sympoietic design practice with plant partners


In this chapter, I describe the profound changes in the relationship between us, two human designers, and various plant participants, which took place during the design process of a plant-controlled, interactive installation. Furthermore, I examine the nature of participation in relation to vegetal being and promote the notion of sympoiesis as an approach to design with nonhuman others.
We, the human designers in the project, both have degrees in media design, one working within 3D animation and the other pursuing a PhD in digital design. The plant participant, a Calathea has its ancestral roots in the Amazonian jungle but lives with the first designer and her partner in Germany. We chose this particular Calathea for the project due to its striking aesthetics and the physical qualities of its broad leaves, suitable for attaching the sensors needed for the installation’s computational system. The objective of the project was to expose existing misconceptions around the nature of vegetal being as non-sentient and forge deeper, more meaningful relationships between plants and humans.
The installation uses data from the plant’s electrical signalling pathways to control the colour-animation of an illuminated fabric-based artefact. Plants live sophisticated lives and possess an acute sensitivity to environmental changes and stimuli (Chamovitz, 2012; Karban, 2008). Due to their high responsiveness to touch, humans and plants can engage and jointly determine the artefact’s visual appearance. This playful interaction between humans and plants prompts a re-evaluation of the human perception of the vegetal environment as passive automata and challenges prevailing ontologies that frame the natural environment as a mere resource existing merely to be exploited. The installation has been presented in Denmark, Germany, Spain and Colombia.

Author: Frankjaer, R. (2019).

In Fletcher, K., Pierre, L. S., & Tham, M. (Eds.). Design and Nature: A Partnership. Routledge

pdf: Becoming-with vegetal_frankjaer