Forschung

PLANTS (4A Lab)

In the academic year 2019/20 fellows of the research and fellowship program 4A LAB will gather in Berlin to work on the first annual theme "Plants".

Prasat Chrey (N18), ca. 7th century, Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia. Photo: Helene Bongers

In recent years, human understanding of the biology of plants has significantly changed. Neurobiologists have described vegetal life in new ways to a wider public, stressing the fact that plants not only have a sensorial apparatus, sex, but that they are also mobile – even though their motion is mostly slow – and even react to music. Plants, it would seem, have agency and they are endowed with forms of collective intelligence, a faculty that is located in plant networks, roots and ramifications. Plants, their ecology and the human interactions with plants therefore should be studied in new light, in a planetary perspective, from the beginnings of human history, as part of the Anthropocene. This includes research on the manifold aesthetic and artistic practices related to or based on plants.

While plants are important factors in human history, humans are leaving their imprint on the history and ecology of plants. The absence, presence and temporalities of vegetal life have always had an impact on settlements as well as urbanization processes. Moreover, plants are dominant elements in the human transformation of landscapes and environments. They are central for the history of colonialism, especially in the form of plantations. They are also protagonists in the making of – real and imagined – gardens across cultures. Plants interact with the human body and its sensorial, perceptive and biochemical apparatus, be it by means of drugs or via food and air. Flowers and fruit are significant elements or even agents in a history of smell and perfume. Plants are not only indispensable for the future of nutrition, they also come with a long past of cultivation processes that includes bioengineering.

For all of these reasons, plants and plant life have been a constant field of investigation and knowledge production, be it by practitioners such as farmers, or by scholars and amateurs. The understanding of plants can be gendered or socially and culturally distinctive, with specific knowledge systems relating to certain plant environments. They come together with classification systems, taxonomies, forms of collecting and display, as in the case of botanical gardens. Not only knowledge, but also aesthetic categories have been (and will continue to be) an eminent factor in the processes of the perception, description, cultivation and appreciation of plants. Artistic production and aesthetic practices based on or relating to plants are thus fields that deserve further exploration across time and space, be they historically driven by religious approaches, political interests, romanticizing views, modernist thought or eco-activism.

Artworks can rely on plants via materials like wood, pigments or dyes, textiles and canvases. Plants are protagonists in herbaria, drawings or photographs or in still life painting. They appear on tiles and pots or in architecture and all kinds of decoration. In fact, plant life or plant morphology forms the basis of the theory and the practices of ornament (or ornamentation), and might be discussed also in terms of a theory of beauty. Seeds, germination, growth are only some of the concepts or metaphors induced by plant life. Moreover, plants serve as protagonists in literature, in poetry and music as well as in religious contexts across cultures and geographies, as part of rituals or of religious veneration (bamboo, lotus, maize, pomegranate, yam, vines or sacred trees). These cultural practices can be part of larger social, political and economic developments or constellations. In fact, plants and crops are major components in economies and thus are often at the center of social tensions or transregional conflicts.
The program welcomes projects from a wide range of topics relating to plants that place emphasis on aesthetic processes, history of thought, and material culture, from the 4A disciplines but also from philosophical or literary studies, in a transregional perspective.

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