In multispecies studies, the cognitive bias known as plant blindness can be identified within the environmental humanities, as critical animal studies have largely dominated much of multispecies discourse. However, theorists such as Michael Marder and Matthew Hall have recently brought to light the need for critical plant studies and the ethics and politics surrounding vegetal beings. As such, this paper studies how embodied experiences of and with vegetal beings through cyborg technologies in contemporary science fiction art is a means to bringing a greater environmental consciousness by enriching human and plant relations for the future. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s 2015 installation Rêvolutions and Anil Podgornik, Saša Spačal, Mirjan Švagelj’s 2015 installation Myconnect exemplify a trend identified by Amelia Barikin where contemporary science fiction artists materialise, enact and perform science fiction. By enacting science fiction, these works aid audiences to develop a greater awareness of vegetal beings as active agents and living beings.

In Rêvolutions, a work commissioned for the 56th Venice Biennale, three cyborg pine trees meander through private and public spheres as sentient beings. By robotic means, the trees are ascribed sentience and mobility as they move through the pavilion and gardens. As vegetal cyborgs, their movements are determined by a robot that senses the sap velocity as well as human movement. Myconnect is an interspecies connector that facilitates interactions between human and mycelium, the vegetal component of fungi, through a biofeedback loop. Connected in a capsule as a symbiotic cyborg, a “mycosynapse” is created when the physiological functions of a human body’s nervous system are transmitted to the mycelium through an interface, whereby the mycelium responds through auditory, visual and tactile sensory impulses in an embodied co-experience. Both works bridge the human-nature divide to overcome plant blindness through embodied experiences with cyborg plants.

About the speaker

Shelley Webster is a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong supported by the Australian Government Research Training Program as a scholar receiving the Australian Postgraduate Award. She is completing a practice-based research doctorate on ethics and politics of multispecies philosophy in contemporary science fiction art. She is trained in painting, drawing and fine art photography which she incorporates in her installations.

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