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  • Sensing Bodies

    Reflecting on Human-Plant Relationships through Biodata Displays of Bodily Encounters

    How can data creation and visualization foreground the interdependent and reciprocal relationships between human and plant bodies? How can artistic interventions open up new possibilities and ethical orientations toward more-than-human communities and bring forth their complex entwinement with the local environment?

    Sensing Bodies is an art installation consisting of a series of interactive exhibits that foreground relationships between a human and plant. The relationships are formed through unique reciprocal interactions, in which the biodata of both the human and plant bodies are collected through sensors, processed through circuits and algorithms, and represented through LED displays. The exhibits highlight our embodied encounters as co-constructed and interdependent with more-than-human agencies, pointing to an interspecies intimacy. However, the form of each exhibit, which displays plants inside an illuminated plexiglass box – bounded, framed, and removed from context – is intentionally evocative of a screen. As such, the installation not only invites reflection on our connection to non-human bodies, but also probes a disconnection to the living, local landscapes around us and their sociopolitical entanglements.


    Shifting Perspective

    Biosensors and/or environmental sensors are used to detect specific aspects of the shifting human and plant bodies. The collected data then triggers the brightness, hues, and patterns of the LED lights. Depending on the condition, the viewer would see only their own reflection (if LED lights are off), only the plants within (if LED lights are at full brightness), or a interlaced view of the self and with the plants (if LED lights are dim). This visual effect is intended to shift the anthropocentric self toward a becoming with plants.

    Exhibit 1: Being with Plants

    The first exhibit invites participants to notice plants through a visual becoming with. In this exhibit, a depth sensor detects the distance between the human and the plant, which reflects the brightness of the LED lights, brightening when the body approaches and dimming when the body recedes. As one moves closer toward the plant display, their view shifts from their own reflection to a combined view of themselves and the plants within, and finally, to only the plants, brightly illuminated under an infinity mirror effect. Here, the plants capture human attention through lights and visual effects, exerting an agency that opens possibilities for deeper connections



    Exhibit 2: Feeling with Plants

    The second exhibit explores an affective intimacy between the plant and human bodies through a connection of our respective electrical pulses. In this exhibit, a heart sensor detects the pulse of the human and converts the pulse into the brightness of the LED lights. the lights flash with the participant’s heartbeat, creating a constantly alternating view and perspective between the individual’s reflection and the plants within. Inside, the plants are connected to an EMG sensor that detects electrical activity within the plant body, which are converted to reflect the colors of the lights, fluttering with slight changes in its hue. Participants are invited to open up the box and feel the plant. When the plant is touched, electrical signals spike, changing the LED display drastically. Here, the two bodies connect intimately through life-sustaining pulse and physical touch, bringing forth an emotional closeness.


    Exhibit 3: Breathing with Plants

    The third exhibit invites reflections on the interdependence between the human and plant bodies through the exchange of breath. In this exhibit a CO2 sensor measures human breath on the outside, triggering a gradual increase in brightness of LED lights when the human exhales. An O2 sensor on the inside captures the release of oxygen via the plant’s photosynthesis process. Each new O2 reading is stored and mapped to the first LED light, which then moves down the strip light as new readings come in, evoking an image of our flowing blood stream. These sensors also capture atmospheric levels of the respective gasses, blurring bodily boundaries and foregrounding the co-constitutive nature of bodies and environments. In this exhibit, participants are invited to open the box and breathe with the plants within – taking in not only the oxygen they provide, but also the scent of the plants through the material exchange of breath.



    We have presented this work at:

    GVU 30th Anniversary at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA, November 2022


    Society for Social Studies of Science/ESOCITE Meeting in Puebla, Mexico, December 2022



    [1] Sylvia Janicki, Anne Sullivan, Noura Howell and Nassim Parvin, "Becoming with Plants: Reflecting on Human-Plant Relationships through Biodata Displays of Bodily Encounters," in preparation  

    [2] Sylvia Janicki, “A Memorial To Earth.” Presented at the Society of Social Studies of Science (4S)/ECOCITE Annual Conference, Universidad Iberoamericana, Cholula, Mexico, December 6-10th, 2022.

    Sylvia Janicki

    Digital Media, PhD Student

    sjanicki3 [at] gatech [dot] edu

    Nassim Parvin

    Digital Media, Associate Professor

    nassim [at] gatech [dot] edu