Aliya SAY. Bodies and Plants: Ways of Sensing in Contemporary Art

Plants make up to 97,5% of the total biomass of this planet, and as recent scientific advances have demonstrated, they present us with alternative and previously underestimated capacities for sensing, intelligence, memory, and communication. The plant is a collective being, with its body described by Michael Marder as a rhizome that ceaselessly establishes connections. The rhizomatic life of plant ‘media’ provides a useful counterpoint to a notion of life housed within individual organisms, offering instead a space of distributed intelligence and conviviality. Thinking like a plant is thinking without identity – it is a continuous celebration of the restlessness of life, of movement, dynamic extension, and temporality. What do artists working today make of these newly understood and alternative ways of relating and communicating to the human signifying practices? Keeping the ‘media–nature–culture’ continuum in (human) mind, my paper will explore and critically examine the return to ‘green’ matter expressed through sculpture, immersive installation and multisensory experience in a gallery context, produced in response to and in conversation with these new ontological frameworks.

Aliya Say is a writer, researcher and art critic, working in UK and, recently, Denmark. In 2019, she embarked on a PhD project at Aarhus University titled ‘Art, Humans, and Plants: On Corporeal Experience in the Anthropocene’ under the supervision of professor Jacob Wamberg and supported by the Novo Foundation.
Aliya has worked on public programming in academia, art institutions and for-profit organisations, and has written for publications including Frieze, The Art Newspaper, The White Review, and others. In 2012, she published a thesis on the role of new media for contemporary art.



This paper introduces the interactive audio-visual installation LEIKHĒN, which combines biomedical signals within an immersive interactive environment. The installation was developed in the frame of an artist in residence invitation at the Immersive Lab (IL), ICST – Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology, Zurich University of the Arts (ZhdK).

The project is inspired by the composite plant of lichen (from Greek: leikhēn), which is the result of a hybrid partnership between a fungus and an alga. The installation is therefore a reflection upon the interaction and mutualistic relationship between two organisms, and how this union impacts on their behaviours inside a created audiovisual space, which will took place in the Immersive Lab (IL) at ICST Zurich. The interactive installation invite visitors to experience the audiovisual immersive space, capturing their attention, sharing their emotions and arising awareness about behaviours in regard to the other and to the environment.

Claudia Robles-Angel is an interdisciplinary artist living in Germany, whose work and research cover different aspects of visual and sound art, extending from audiovisual fixed-media compositions to performances and installations interacting with bio-data via the usage of interfaces such as EEG (electroencephalogram) and EMG (electromyography). She has been artist-in-residence in several outstanding institutions, for example at ZKM (Karlsruhe), KHM (Cologne) and at the ICST ZHdK Zurich. Her work is constantly featured in not only media and sound-based festivals/conferences but also in group and solo exhibitions around the globe, for example the ZKM Karlsruhe, ISEA Instanbul, Manizales and Durban, the SIGGRAPH Asia Yokohama, Harvestworks NYC, NIME 2011 Oslo, 55th Venice Biennale 2013, Heroines of Sound Berlin and Experimental Intermedia NYC.


Muddled Meanings in “Maritime Messaging: Red Hook”

I will discuss surprising, slippery-when-wet outcomes of my creative research project, _Maritime Messaging: Red Hook_. Considering “ungreen” through the color “blue,” my presentation engages oceans, weather, and AIs to question algorithmic determination and the foreclosure of poetics in AI-enabled systems. What if water is a witness? Surrounding Brooklyn, and neighborhoods like Red Hook, water remains a constant amidst New York’s rapid changes. Human history fluctuates over time, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, booming and busting. What if water has absorbed it all? I trained an artificial intelligence on the history of Red Hook to help the water to tell its story. Using underwater sound recordings, _Maritime Messaging_ staged a mock conversation between the water of Red Hook and a digital assistant app that invited the water to send messages and translated its gurgles into words. The resulting phrases were generated by an artificial neural network, a form of artificial intelligence. The poetic outcome suggests a mysterious glimpse into the water’s muddled memories of Red Hook’s maritime past. Fifteen performers journeyed from Wall Street to Red Hook on NYC Ferry boats on Superstorm Sandy’s five-year anniversary. Standing as witnesses, they listened to the water and broadcast its conversation with iPads.

Katherine Behar is an interdisciplinary artist whose works exploring gender and labor in contemporary digital culture have appeared throughout North America and Europe. Pera Museum in Istanbul presented a comprehensive survey exhibition and catalog, Katherine Behar: Data’s Entry | Veri Girişi, in 2016. Additional solo exhibitions include Katherine Behar: Anonymous Autonomous (2018), Katherine Behar: E-Waste (2014, catalog/traveling), and numerous others collaborating as “Disorientalism.” Behar is the editor of Object-Oriented Feminism, coeditor of And Another Thing: Nonanthropocentrism and Art, and author of Bigger than You: Big Data and Obesity. She is Associate Professor of New Media Arts at Baruch College, CUNY and faculty in Data Analysis and Visualization at the CUNY Graduate Center.


I Never Promised You a Green Garden
Eva-Maria LOPEZ

I Never Promised You a Green Garden.“ talks about backstage of the green world around us – the reality which stands behind the green business. The series consists of several ornaments,
The ornaments are representative– in a way the idyllic world – being quite harmless and decorative, until you, find out that every motif is made up of logos. The legends show the brands from companies that produce or sell glyphosate or GM plants.The title “I Never Promised You a Green Garden.” plays with the message, that a garden is always a green, recreating space. Herbicides are promoted to clean and remove all greenery from pathways, in gardens and parks, railway tracks as well as in agriculture.

Eva-Maria Lopez is a multidisciplinary artist based in Karlsruhe, Germany and Paris, France. After receiving the master’s degree in Agriculture, she studied Art at the Academy of Fine Art in Karlsruhe, Germany. Due to this background, issues relating to nature, society and the environment have an important impact on her artwork In addition to photography as the main medium, she has been transforming her projects as Land art since 2018. Her works explore means of conveying these issues visually. Merging realities or history together into one picture or graphic and reframing themes are the central aims of her projects. Research is also an integral part of her work. By the interplay of keywords, titles and slogans, Lopez’ attempt is to arouse questioning in the audience.


Random Forests A Field Guide Environmental Machine Learning

When landscape appeared in European art it emerged first as a landscape of symbols. The Gothic depiction of Earth was populated with features that were primarily there as convenient symbols in a larger narrative geography. With Van Eyck the environment becomes a landscape of fact according to the eminent art-historian Kenneth Clarck. “In a single lifetime Van Eyck progressed the history of art in a way that an unsuspecting art-historian might assume to take centuries.”
Until recently the ability to make sense of the environment was limited to biological beings, but machines are starting to blur those lines. The perception of landscape through machine learning is emerging from precision agriculture, mining, forestry, transport, and ecology. Similar to early landscape painting, machines gaze over the shoulders of human to the environment beyond. In early machine perception the environment seems to appear as a landscape of commodity.
Platform A.I.s of late capitalism grow up as human centered agents and with much of our current environmental predicament stemming from anthropocentric bias, this raises questions: should our machines learn exclusively from humans, should their natural environment be corporate, or do intelligent machines need training-forests, like orphaned Orangutans in Indonesian rehabilitation programmes?

Theun Karelse studied fine-arts at the Sandberg Institute before joining FoAM, a transdisciplinary network of laboratories at the interstices of art, science, nature and everyday life. His interests and experimental practice explore edges between art, ecology, technology and archaeology. Recent programmes such as Machine Wilderness and Random Forests, consist of fieldwork and debate from the perspective of specific environments with full exposure to their complexities. For this transdisciplinary teams address specific topics in fieldwork sessions by in-situ prototyping, experimentation and direct perception. Upcoming: DeepSteward an unsupervised field agent that allocates its own classifications on landscapes and Zoop an experimental set up exploring legal and tech infrastructures that enable an ecoregion to take the lead in its own regeneration.