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If a tree falls in the forest…?

Monica Gagliano, a plant acoustics researcher at Western Australia University, is one of several scientists worldwide who are recording and studying plant-generated sounds. She says, “We have identified that plants respond to sound and they make their own sounds.” After a series of experiments in which plants broadcast, received and responded to stressors such as drought and infestations, she states that plants “…are really good at sharing information about danger, even if one sharing is one that's going to die.” Intriguingly, she speculates, ”Considering that entire forests are all interconnected by networks of fungi, maybe plants are using fungi the way we use the Internet.”

When humans become disabled, our brains quickly adapt and expand. Dormant connections from other senses  spring to life and new neural pathways are formed. Information that deaf people see is processed in the same areas of the brain that hearing people use to interpret sound. When blind people learn Braille, areas in their visual cortex switch to feeling...and reading. A device developed for military use even allows people to navigate blind via impulses read with the tongue. Our internal sensory systems exhibit an astonishing malleability, showing that we all have untapped multi-sensory potential. 

We are not alone here. Our species’ chief self-claim to superiority is based solely on our ability to communicate with each other through our reliance on a narrow approach to language. “"Shamans say they learn from the plant's sounds. Maybe they are attuned to things we don't pay attention to," Gagliano says. "It's really fascinating. We might have lost that connection and science is ready to rediscover it." 

If trees can listen to each other, communicating distress, and if their sensory structures can adapt as our own do,  perhaps they have developed the means to monitor their greatest threat.


These cast-paper works appear as I travel, deliberately unaccompanied by art-world fanfare: no grant funding, opening receptions, artist’s talks, on-site labels, statements, or guarantees.  They are meant to last as long as they last, then fall to the ground and decompose responsibly, adding nothing but more cellulose to the soil.  (Currently they last about eight months; their construction and the manner of their deterioration are constantly being experimented with and adjusted).

Like theoretical claims in a maelstrom of opinion, when installed, the works are quite easy to miss, to walk past. These web pages are the only place I plan to share documentation and my thoughts on the work.  It is unimportant to me for people who view the work to find their way here, or to have their experience defined by my words. 

What is important to me is what these works might evoke for people who are attuned enough to their surroundings to discover them. When that happens, I hope to provide a pause, a gateway: a space to stop, look, listen and read...with every sense you’ve got.  


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© Melissa Jay Craig 2015