Epiphytes is a VR work that encourages you to explore the world of plants through sound and scent.
Unusually for VR, the importance of sight is downplayed. The visual world is soft and semi-abstracted.
Embedded in the work are conversations with three people who each bring a creative approach to the concept of listening. Monica Gagliano, evolutionary ecologist, Umashankar Manthravadi, acoustic archaeologist and Thomas Tajo, blind teacher and researcher. We have gathered the interviews together here.
Thomas Tajo is a blind researcher and disability activist, and president of a newly founded international non-profit organisation, Vision Inclusive, which seeks to bring people with and without disabilities together to build and promote a culture of openness. Tajo was born into an aboriginal/tribal family in Northeast India and today lives and works in Belgium.
Tajo proposes to encourage the establishment of more inclusive and multi-sensory digital dating platforms, particularly for those who are more reliant on the use of non-visual senses, such as blind and partially sighted people and those with varying visual abilities due to age, and for those who come from oral cultures and people with lower levels of literacy.
Tajo teaches echolocation through Visioneers and other organisations. Tajo was an Eyebeam resident in 2020 and was recently commissioned to develop the Art Echo virtual interpretation interface for the Smithsonian Institution in New York.
Umashankar Manthravadi is a self-taught acoustic archaeologist, sound technician, sound recordist, journalist and poet. In the early 1980s, Manthravadi helped set up and maintain one of the world's largest ethnomusicology archives, Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology (ARCE) in Gurgaon. As part of the artist collective Umashankar and the Earchaeologists (with Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Nida Ghouse) he investigates how sound can influence our understanding of ancient and contemporary sites. He developed ambisonic technology to document the acoustic properties of archaeological sites in India, examining in particular social forms and their actualization in performance and sound. Manthavadi has held exhibitions at venues including the Centre Pompidou, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin and others.
Gagliano has pioneered the brand-new research field of plant bioacoustics, for the first time experimentally demonstrating that plants emit their own ‘voices’ and detect and respond to the sounds of their environments. Her work has extended the concept of cognition (including perception, learning processes, memory) in plants. By demonstrating experimentally that learning is not the exclusive province of animals, she has re-ignited the discourse on plant subjectivity and ethical and legal standing. Inspired by encounters with Nature and indigenous elders from around the world, she applies a progressive and holistic approach to science – one that is comfortable engaging at the interface between areas as diverse as ecology, physics, law, anthropology, philosophy, literature, music and the arts, and spirituality. By re-kindling a sense of wonder for this beautiful place we call home, she is helping to create a fresh imaginative ecology of mind that can inspire the emergence of truly innovative solutions to human relations with the world we co-inhabit.
Gagliano is a Research Associate Professor in Evolutionary Ecology at the Biological Intelligence (BI) Lab, Southern Cross University, a Research Associate Professor (Adjunct) at the University of Western Australia, a Research Affiliate at the Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney.