Medium: Live Choreographic Performance, Narrative Sound
Date: Fall 2019
Natural Intelligence is a live choreographic performance speculating plants as intelligent entities that hold dominance over humans. It reimagines agriculture as human-submission to the needs, desires, and motivations of plants. Through narrational sound, a plant voices its awareness of self, its environment, and its intention of self-multiplication and desire for nourishment. My human body is robotically synchronized to the instructions of the plant. Under its command, I perform cultivative actions such as tilling, spreading of seeds, and watering. The plant becomes a clever entity with agency over the activities of humans. The performance challenges our view of plants as neutral objects compliant to human-governance. It questions what hidden agencies plants may have to transform landscapes and self-centeredly direct human civilization and development.
The plant is secured above my head and given a commanding voice. This reverses the hierarchy of power assumed by humans which views non-human entities as inferior to human agency and subjectivity. My body and mind become submitted to the plant, as a mechanical vessel that physically executes its wishes and orders.
The tri-walled space is lined with two rows of soil on opposite ends of the floor. The voice instructs me with orders to “soften up the surface”. I robotically move the soil into tilled rows and my body operates as a mechanical plow. When the plant voices its desire to “Shed myself” and “Stretch me far and wide”, my arms motorize to pick off strands of the plant and release the seeds over the rows of soil. When the plant notifies me of its parched state, my body responds by hauling a bucket of water and propelling water over the seeds.
The piece challenges our understanding of agriculture as efforts of human intelligence, accomplishments of human ambition, and as human subjugation of natural environs. Plants which have been viewed as objects colonized by humans, are reconsidered as autonomous entities which have control over their surroundings, with the capacity to harness even humans for their benefit. Through choreographic performance, my body is explored as an operative instrument for the intelligent plans and strategies of the plant.
The choreographic nature of the performance acts as a “thinking tool”. According to William Forsythe, “gesturing with the body in space” becomes “Physical Thinking”. As I gesture machinic movements with my body, I am physically thinking my body as a machine. As my arms and legs till through the soil, I am physically thinking of my body as a plow. As my movements are synchronized to the charging calls of the plant, I am physically thinking my body as a machinic mediator of the plant and performing the connected synergy that exists between humans and natural entities.
Bryant, Levi. Onto-Cartography An Ontology of Machines and Media. Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2014, Edinburgh, pp.33-35 Bryant, Levi. The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press, 2011, p 27.
Neri, Louise and Eva Respini. William Forsythe Choreographic Objects. The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and DelMonico Books Prestel, 2018, Munich, London, New York, pp. 9 -16.