Why Look at Plants?

Through the disentangling of the dichotomical opposition of nature and culture proposed by Donna Haraway, the vision of boundary-breakdown between animals, human and machines is surprisingly guilty of a conspicuous omission: plants. Frequently studied for their medical properties and consistently exploited for their aesthetic, edible and malleable qualities, plants have played a defining role in the historical and cultural development of humankind.

Why have plants then been ignored in the outlining of the cyborgian reconfiguration? To this point, plants have been silent witnesses of the animal revolution in the humanities and the arts. However, through the subjects of hybridity and interspecies communication they have come to occupy a more prominent place in the posthumanist discourse. Recent advances in plant molecular biology, cellular biology, electrophysiology and ecology, have revealed plants as sensory and communicative organisms, characterized by active, problem-solving behavior.

“Why look at plants?” is then question well worth asking not just for the purpose of attempting to understand plants from different and new perspectives, but in order to expand the current discourse on animals and environmental issues.

This paper will look at contemporary artistic practices which have presented plants and animals in comparative terms placing emphasis on the subjects of animal and plant behaviour as specific point of speculation.

Giovanni Aloi was born in Milan, Italy in 1976. In 1995 he obtained his first degree in Fine Art – Theory and Practice, then moved to London in 1997 where he furthered his studies in Visual Cultures (MA) at Goldsmiths College. From 1999 to 2004 he worked at Whitechapel Art Gallery and as a film programmer at Prince Charles Cinema in London whilst continuing to work as freelance photographer. Today he is a lecturer in History of Art at Roehampton University, Queen Mary University of London, The Open University, and Tate Galleries. Since 2006, he also is the founder and Editor in Chief of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The Journal combines a heightened level of academic scrutiny of animals in art, with a less formal and more experimental format designed to appeal to wider audiences.
Since 2009, Aloi has been researching for his PhD at Goldsmiths College on the subject of “animals as art objects in the gallery space”. His first book, Art & Animals, part of the series ‘Art &’ published by IB Tauris will be available in early December 2011.


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