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An ecoaesthetic of vegetal surfaces

An ecoaesthetic of vegetal surfaces: on Seed, Image, Ground as soft montage” is the title of the new article we just published in the Journal of Visual Art Practice with Abelardo Gil-Fournier. It draws on the video essay published last year and engages especially with the practice-led methodology. The video was just recently installed in the Vibrating Clouds exhibition in Shenzen and will be part of at least two exhibitions in later 2021/2022 (in Europe). With Abelardo, we are currently writing a book on vegetal images and the question of multi-scalar planetary surfaces.

Below a short excerpt of the article’s Introduction section

This essay builds on our recent Seed, Image, Ground video project (2020) and how it entangles with our larger research project on surfaces. Both address the surface of plants, agriculture and the biosphere in relation to the surfaces of media, such as screens and images. The video essay was commissioned by the Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2020 and it is openly available at the institution’s YouTube channel. While the video is a central reference point for this visual essay, our aim is not so much to theorise our own moving images and their juxtapositions and rhythms. Instead, in this article, we present a series of surfaces and scales that appear in and through the images. Images build upon images and this constitutes the practice-led approach to the temporal unfolding in the video. The video works as a temporal articulation of image surfaces across and upon living surfaces. In other words, we articulate the moving images as practices of surfaces, plants, and images: hence the central motif of the video essay and this accompanying text is to ask ‘what do images of growth look like?’ How do such images operate in two channel video practice that builds on Harun Farocki’s work? Here, we do not refer only to operational images (Farocki 2004), but also to the idea of a ‘soft montage’ (Farocki 2009) which becomes a methodological reference point as one aspect of practice of images about and across images that can also be conceptualised as we do in this essay. The video and its relation to text are ecoaesthetic (Cubitt 2017) in the sense of dealing with the entanglement of media and environmental materials where the double articulation of images and green plant surfaces are the engine of our argument.

In this way, the video is a methodological exercise that helps to articulate a problem space (Lury 2021) – a space where problems, methods, and concepts are dynamically rearticulated, and where the space of their composition is not a stable container where a thing is addressed but part of their making: ‘a problem is not given but emerges with-in and out-with a myriad sequence of actions or methods that (trans)forms the problem space’ (Lury 2021, 6). This composition and this montage points to the ways methods are enacted only in the material practices that constitute the problem space as it unfolds as a living issue and tissue. Can this sequence Lury refers to be also a sequence of images? Could the actions be those of images? As the following visualisation of the evolution of the timeline of our video essay show, the video’s timeline as a problem space presents its fabrication as a surface. The cuts, the movements of the sequences, and other editing operations manifested in the figure, call for a dynamic understanding of surface as surfacing, built on multiple genealogies of instrumentation, technology, and cultivation.

Vibrating Clouds

Our Seed, Image, Ground video (2020, with Abelardo Gil-Fournier) is currently installed and on show in Shenzen at the Vibrating Clouds exhibition curated by Yixuan Cai and her team for the Design Society. The video was also part of the Reprogramming Earth exhibition curated by Daphne Dragona at NEME in Cyprus and it will feature in a couple of other exhibitions in the coming 12 months too.

For a short overview of the exhibition in Chinese, see here. Other artists and architects in the exhibition include Tomas Saraceno, Karolina Sobecka, Philippe Rahm architectes, Janine Randerson and others.

For Abelardo and me, it’s a special pleasure to know that it is finally installed in actual physical space alongside good audio that allows the sound design by María Andueza Olmedo to stand out.