The Museum of Plant Art
The Museum of Plant Art Inaugural exhibition at Chapelle des cordeliers Toulouse
13 Oct- 26 Nov
The first exhibition of The Museum of Plant Art at Chapelle des Cordeliers will focus on the range of intricate visual, auditive and olfactive, experiences wildflowers provide to pollinators. It will examine the immersive spaces flowers create and the strategies they put in place for their target audience, pollinators. This immersive experience will recreate some of the elements of flower-pollinator interactions, to facilitate discussion amongst exhibition audiences of their/the pollinator experience as an artistic one.
In this iteration, The Museum of Plant Art will celebrate the complexity and beauty of plant colouration choices, using plant-based biodegradable iridescent materials donated by the University of Cambridge and commercial companies.
The exhibition will also include the use of scents and tailor-made music for the space reflecting on the harmonious vibration flowers and pollinators produce together.
This first exhibition will also be accompanied by a publication by Filigranes Editions and a day conference at the Museum of Contemporary Art Les Abattoirs in Toulouse.
Both the publication and the conference aim to facilitate reflective debate and expand on the immersive exhibition experience with a series of contributions from leading philosophers, scientists, journalists, and art academics fostering debate on us, our understanding of art and our understanding of earth co-habitants.
The Museum of Plant Art inaugural conference at Les Abattoirs, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Toulouse
The first conference of The Museum of Plant Art will take place on Saturday 14th of October. Here, I'll be in conversation with journalist Andreina de Bei deputy editor-in-chief and photo director of Sciences et Avenir magazine and Research Director at the Laboratory of Plants Microbes and Environment Interactions Nicolas Langlade, who has accompanied this project from the beginning.
The Museum of Plant Art first publication
The next publication of The Museum of Plant Art will be launched on the 13th of October. A link will be made available here soon to acquire it!
The Museum of Plant Art presented by Michel Poivert. Palais de Tokyo. June 2023
Presentation of The Museum of Plant Art presented by Michel Poivert at Palais de Tokyo, during the 4th Parlament de la Photographie in June
About The Museum of Plant Art: exploring artistic self-expression of plants.
Using a range of intricate visual processes and sensory gratification, wildflowers provide aesthetic experiences to pollinators. The Museum of Plant Art explores these experiences, that are sometimes imperceptible to the human eye, yet are crucial for human existence, as artistic self-expressions of plants.
In line with scientific and philosophical non-anthropocentric research, which acknowledges intelligence, interiority, and consciousness in plants, The Museum of Plant Art examines wildflowers' artistic production, including pigmentation choices, such as UV colouration, to review aptitudes usually attributed exclusively to humans like talent or artistic intention, as well as traditional categorizations of the arts and art makers in academia and museums.
While we often celebrate human artworks produced in altered states of consciousness, that connect with audiences in manners that go beyond the intellectual and the intelligible, we psychologically resist recognising that same capacity of self-expression in plants. Fear, ego, obstination, or maybe lack of will to review a shared understanding of the arts coined by museums and academia, might be behind this rationale, yet our disregard of the non-human poses a main threat to our future. The Museum of Plan Art, reviews common conceptions of the arts while also advancing a non-anthropocentric perspective.
Sitting at the opposite end of western, patriarchal, colonial and extractive capitalism, non-anthropocentric perspectives advocate for a pluriversal collaborative coexistence with other species. In such case, they are considered as cohabitants, and not providers, to be acknowledged and understood within their own rights, inviting reflection on the discourses and practices of differentiation and exclusion of other species, as well as the underlying politics and economies of this exclusion.
Socio-ecological concerns are at the centre of The Museum of Plant Art. Exhibitions and publications from the museum don’t aim to aestheticise nature but to open a political exploration of plants as makers of aesthetic experiences, as artists.
On developing empathy for plants.
Since ancient Greece, the unperceivable movement of plants has been associated with a lack of inherent life in them*. Plants have historically been seen as passive and motionless, incapable of sensation or consciousness. We now know that plants are complex organisms with unique behaviours, communication systems, and responses to stimuli. Plants perceive their environment, make decisions, and adapt to changing conditions. Plants are capable of self-change and they also move, not even necessarily slow, as we can see in BBC documentaries. **
I started The Museum of Plant Art to foster debate and reflection on our understanding of ourselves and other species and to contribute to mitigating the scarcity of institutions directly embracing nonanthropocentric perspectives in the arts. Alternative institutions give a platform to alternative narratives. If art museums celebrate human-made art, The Museum of Plant Art aims to nurture a political exploration of plants as makers of aesthetic experiences, as artists.
The Museum of Plant Art argues the reasons leading us to think that plants don’t make art fundamentally lie in our understanding of others, often discriminatory, as we frequently attribute certain capacities exclusively to ourselves until proven wrong. These capacities can be cognitive like sentience or awareness, but also artistic like creativity and innovation.
While we deny capacities in plants, we certainly copy them. We copy technologies, designs and even architectural structures for our own buildings, products, and materials. This is often called biomimetics or biomimicry. In the case of architectural designs, it’s particularly paradoxical, because the word archi (first/principal) teckton (artisan/craftsman) would place plants as “first creators”, which philosopher Michael Marder argues they are***.
For the first exhibition of The Museum of Plant Art, I have included a promising example of biomimicry developed by the University of Cambridge. These are plant-based celluloses containing nanocrystals that plants use to make their flowers interesting to pollinators and to control temperature. We humans, hope to apply these celluloses to our budlings soon to counterbalance the warming of our cities due to the climate crisis.
The conceptualization of The Museum of Plant Art has benefited from conversations with philosophers, scientists, psychologist, art academics and others leading research on non-human living beings. I believe this is necessary to tackle gaps in the knowledge we have of other species, to bring forward conversations on art production, but also to facilitate discussion on our often-discriminatory perspective, the politics and economies benefiting from the marginalisation of other species, and the psychological reasons leading to it.
Experimental and non-anthropocentric approaches are more often adopted in scientific, artistic and philosophical debates. However, there is still a lot of resistance to embrace them. While developing The Museum of Plant Art I have frequently encountered the counterargument that recognising artistic capacities in plants is a form of anthropomorphising them, and that developing a more empathic perspective towards other species is nothing other than a “identificatory projection”, a form of human-centred narcissism.
In “Empathy for Plants” philosopher Matthew Hall discusses this issue and proposes strategies to empathise with the non-human, rejecting the understanding of empathy as a projection process.****
Hall takes a perspective in which empathy is not limited to one’s “own isolated consciousness, trapped within the cartesian body and separate from other forms of consciousness.” (2022, p.125) Hall’s text amalgamates a collection of philosophers defending a perspective where a community is implicit in every individual and through this embodied intersubjectivity we can understand an experience without having to establish an analogy or a projection.
Plants are alive, their gestures convey inner states, says Hall. “Plant life histories and behaviours become then gestures and expression of life/mind” (2022, p.129). The recognition of these gestures makes human-plant empathy possible.
It is also worth mentioning that Western culture, profoundly marked by rationalism, cartesian division of the mind and body, and objectification in the service of functionality, might interfere with this process of empathising with earth co-habitants. Many non-western living cultural traditions relate in a more empathic manner with non-human living beings, and in this sense, the museum aims to facilitate a greater reconnaissance and understanding of other forms of knowledge and philosophies.
The ensemble of experiences, texts, conversations and reflections offered by The Museum of Plant Art aim to facilitate debate and assists us to do the uncomfortable effort of rethinking our self-attributed “sapiens” label and to develop a comprehension of other beings as cohabitants within their own right.
*Coren, D. (2019) ‘Aristotle on self-change in plants’, Rhizomata, 7(1), pp. 33–62. doi:10.1515/rhiz-2019-0002.
** These Seeds Can Walk! (2022). The Green Planet. BBC Earth
*** Marder, M. (2013) Plant-thinking a philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
**** Hall, M. (2022) ‘Empathy for plants’, Environmental Ethics, 44(2), pp. 121–136. doi:10.5840/enviroethics20225237
Photograph of the crystalline cellulose donated by University of Cambridge for The Museum of Plant Art first exhibition.
The future of the museum: A museum with a vegetal structure.
The Museum of Plant Art has a vegetal structure. It develops, grows, metamorphoses and decays in a variety of forms adapting to a given context. The Museum of Plant Art future exhibitions and programmes will exist only via collaborative partnerships with host institutions. No physical construction will be required, and no extra consumption of utilities will be involved, making its exhibitions and programmes more sustainable. Sharing existing infrastructure is central to the museum’s ethics as is the sharing of research, resources, practices, knowledge, and experiences.
Being a mutable museum that adapts its programme and projects to a given context also means a greater chance to include and engage with a wider range of local communities. The variable location of The Museum of Plant Art allows it to develop specific outreach initiatives together with its host institutions. This, in turn, facilitates access to the museum’s events and activities and also ensures that the museum’s resource and knowledge production (such as video-recorded conferences, publications, and outputs from participative activities), is reflective of the multiplicity of languages and cultures that should inform its non-anthropocentric agenda.
Social dialogue, exchange, and co-design, actively inform the agenda of the Museum of Plant Art. Interdependencies with host institutions also ensure that the museum’s agenda isn’t marked by a single perspective imposing an understanding. This decolonial strategy allows for a multiplicity of views to significantly intervene in the museum’s production and overall exitance.
Like any plant in its ecosystem, the museum aims to celebrate and expand on existing art communities and programmes. Being part of a network to benefit from and contribute to, where collaboration and interchange are native.
Plants transform and are transformed by their environment. They create and embody the landscape they inhabit forming affective cooperative ecologies with agents in their contexts. This leads plants, pollinators, funguses, and algae to co-evolute together to better support each other’s existence. The Museum of Plant Art aims to honour the natural affective ecologies plants form and metamorphose and transform together with its host institutions.