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The secret language of trees

Final installation – Getting ready for the degree show


For my final year piece “ The secret Language of Trees”, I wanted to create an immersive sound installation, where people could almost feel part of an ecosystem. The original idea was to create a symbolic forest of trees, each one of them having a speaker inside, so that the viewer, walking through the space, would have had a different experience of the sounds and visuals at each step.
Even though the sculptural elements played a big part in the creation of the space and the atmosphere, I did not want them to overpower the sound, but to complement it, acting as support structures for it. The visual elements, in fact, were just meant to give context to the sound, suggesting its origin, while also acting as containers for the physical equipment (speakers and mp3s). 

The installation

While at the beginning I had a strong idea of the kind of outcome that I wanted to achieve – about what is illustarted above – after more researches and tutorials I came to reflect more on the qualities of trees and how to suggest their presence without reproducing them fully. I started looking into more minimalistic installation art and different ways in which to exploit the imaginative power of the spectators.
The final solution that I picked was to build only sections of “trees”, and to use recycled/ found materials from the outdoor natural environment to do so. Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions in England, I only managed to collect nearly half of the material from the park and streets before it started raining for about two weeks; therefore, I had to compromise and buy the rest of the material online. I then put together all the bark collected and glued it on top of some structures made of metallic wire and fabric which I had previously built, and finally I installed the sculptural objects at different hights in the room

The Sound

For what concerns the sound, what I did was to record the intrinsic language of some plants – electric activity and gas clues – while interacting with them to then turn it into extrinsic language – the language that we use to talk about plant, made of letters. After researching the process of sonorization of plant’s activities present in the work of Mileece and in devices such as “the music of the plants”, I worked with a few people on the creation of my own device to detect this activity. I then collected the data from my interactions and applied to them my own process of artificial translation, creating a sequence of letters that I later had some people reading out loud for me, each one “impersonating” a distinct tree. Finally, I placed each recording inside the different sculptural elements of the installation and created pauses so that the “trees” would have had overlapping conversations but never “spoke” all at the same time.

Main influences

“The secret Language of Trees” reflects on the limits of language as a mean of communication between humans and the botanical world and questions the need of people to seek a relatable form of expression in plants instead of attuning to their own means of communication. The sound, coming from the sculptural elements, exposes a constructed processes of translation whose outcome is a non-sense mixture of noises, as to highlight the forced nature of this process. The work is primarily informed by the research and writings of Monica Gagliano, a bio-acoustic researcher who investigates the ecological significance of the sounds that plants produce to communicate among themselves and other organisms. More specifically, it addresses the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic language introduced in the book “the language of plants”, exploring the gap between the two and translating one into the other through an artificial process that just results in undecipherable sounds.
Besides Gagliano, other influences that have informed the work are the artistic practice of Mileece and the sonic devices produced by “The music of the Plants” which both aim at the translation of the energy of plants into aesthetic and pleasant melodies. Regardless of the amusing and surprising experiences that these works can provide, these practices only aliment a perpetual search for some sort of connector that feels relatable to humans, like music or language, indirectly supporting this absurd chase towards something that is actually so immediate and natural. Our connection with plants isn’t something we have to chase, as a matter of fact, we resonate with them and exchange vibratory energy constantly; there is no need for constructed solutions, the answer is in the experience. And the experience of my work is going to be the one of a non-understandable corporeal voice, because we cannot pretend to establish a real connection with plants in such a decontextualise space as a white cube, the real relationship is built outside, in nature.
If on the one hand the sound that I created is not representative of “what the plants are saying” on the other hand I still wanted to build the piece in such a away that, when walking into the space, people would feel part of an ecosystem, an inclusive conversation, just like when we walk through a forest. I wanted each person to experience the corporality of the environment and at the same time its everchanging state – just like in Shilpa Gupta’s installation “For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit” where each microphone represents an individual voice and, by walking through the piece, the spectator would have a different experience of the sound each step.