20 Jul 2022
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute, in cooperation with the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw, presents Greenhouse Silent Disco at the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.
Caught between the legacy of Romanticism and the innovations of digital technology, this immersive installation invites us to take our cues from the intelligence of plants as we move towards ecological well-being.
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The 23rd International Exhibition has chosen the theme of “Unknown Unknowns - An Introduction to Mysteries”, inviting us to search the realm of things we do not yet know that we don’t know, exploring the unfamiliar to turn our ideas of the world upside down and to open new horizons of sustainability.
The Polish Pavilion joins the expedition by going beyond preconceived ideas of plants as static and passive organisms: this installation is designed to decipher the silent language of arboreal vegetation, making contact with the parallel intelligence of this complex and mysterious world.
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Have we ever stopped to wonder what plants have to say to us? Or what they need? What input can they give us to help us rethink the ecosystem for the benefit of the plant kingdom, as well as our own?
Greenhouse Silent Disco is a greenhouse of the future, filled with lush vegetation and equipped with digital sensors that capture the reactions of the plants to various stimuli. Such stimuli include the presence of humans who pass through the installation, as well as the changing weather outside. These reactions are transformed into LED lights and sounds.
Curators Malgorzata Devosges-Cuber and Michal Duda, creators of many exhibitions and publications dedicated to design and architecture, have blended a sensual, romantic, and corporeal approach to nature with the possibilities of modern technology. At the heart of the project is research by plant physiologist Hazem Kalaji, professor in the Department of Agriculture and Biology at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, and his #iPlant system.
Within the installation, plants communicate with the system through excess light received, but not used, in photosynthesis, a phenomenon referred to as chlorophyll fluorescence. This makes it possible to determine their needs according to human-centric parameters that we can grasp and interpret.
“The greenhouse of the future is like a disco. The LED lights vary from blue to red and white, depending on the plants’ needs. For example, they change color if it is cloudy or raining outside of the greenhouse,” explains professor Hazem Kalaji, who curated and supervised the scientific aspect of the exposition.
The installation, designed by Barbara Nawrocka and Dominika Wilczynska of the architecture firm Miastopracownia, with graphic design by Nicola Cholewa, in cooperation with Magdalena Heliasz, is a wooden structure inspired by natural fractals. The plants, kept in handmade artisanal terracotta pots, are multiplied into infinity by the reflective glass walls.
It is an immersive atmosphere, where guests find themselves completely enveloped in the plant life around them, along with their “conversations” in light and sound. It is a living and ever-changing installation that refutes any image of nature as perfect and immobile, instead revealing its constant flux through the growth of plants and the turning of the seasons between July and December, the period of the 23rd International Exhibition.
An intense and profound relationship develops between the visitors and the plants in a clear evocation of Romanticism, the philosophical and literary matrix of the project. In fact, the installation is being presented during the Year of Polish Romanticism, full of events celebrating the great poet and writer, Adam Mickiewicz, on the 200th anniversary of the publication of his “Ballads and Romances”.
“It is with Romanticism that nature transcends a purely illustrative role and becomes an instrument of knowledge. Man becomes part of Nature, and nature itself becomes a way to know the world. The Romantics believed that only in nature could man truly be himself. So the starting point is to ask if we can draw on the wisdom of plants to inform our designs. And the answer is yes,” says Micha? Duda, deputy director for programming at the Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw.
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The sensory abilities of plant organisms go far beyond what we can imagine. Plants have the ability to feel and assess the force of gravity, sense the intensity of electromagnetic fields and the level of humidity, notice even the slightest vibrations, and communicate within their community and between different species. It is up to us to choose to listen to them.