V9 Conspirator Design, Nov. 2020 (Image by Donna Davis)
V9 Conspirator Design, Nov. 2020 (Image by Donna Davis)
V2 Conspirator Design, Oct. 2020 (Image by Donna Davis)
V2 Conspirator Design, Oct. 2020 (Image by Donna Davis)
Trials of growing substrate for 'Resurrection Grass'. 2020 Tripogon Loliformis (Image Donna Davis)
Trials of growing substrate for 'Resurrection Grass'. 2020 Tripogon Loliformis (Image Donna Davis)
Resurrection Grass (Tripogon Loliformis) Subject of prototype trials - in drought state, Darling Downs, Australia, 2020 (Image Jenn Firn)
Resurrection Grass (Tripogon Loliformis) Subject of prototype trials - in drought state, Darling Downs, Australia, 2020 (Image Jenn Firn)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Sorting native grass seed mix for growing trials. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Sorting native grass seed mix for growing trials. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Two weeks growth, native grass seed [species TBC]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Two weeks growth, native grass seed [species TBC]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Sorting native grass seed mix for growing trials. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Sorting native grass seed mix for growing trials. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Macro image of one of the seeds in the native grass seed mix [species TBC]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, Macro image of one of the seeds in the native grass seed mix [species TBC]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, First shoots in the native grass seed growing trials, [mixed species]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Carbon_Dating, 2020-22, First shoots in the native grass seed growing trials, [mixed species]. (Photo by Donna Davis)
Uncanny Valley (2019-). Image Keith Armstrong)
Uncanny Valley (2019-). Image Keith Armstrong)

Carbon_Dating (under development)

WHAT:
Carbon_Dating is a series of networked, experimental artworks situated throughout Queensland, that seek to shift attitudes towards the diverse Australian native grasses that grow in those regions. Despite grasses being one of the most critical plants for the survival of life on earth, our understanding and appreciation of them (beyond their use as animal fodder or lawn-making) remains limited. We also easily forget the vast amounts of life-giving oxygen they provide us to enable our collective breath. By engaging regional, national and international audiences with the ecological and cultural importance of native grasses, Carbon_Dating ‘conspires’ to help us breathe life into inspirational new relationships with Australia’s extraordinary native vegetation.  In this time of environmental stress, the project calls upon adventurous humans & vivacious grasses to ‘conspire’ together – to breathe life into radically new kinds of relationships with each other. 

The outcomes of the project will be presented throughout the Queensland regions in 2022 and online - presented over a 3-month period in up to 5/6 locations. Each site will involve the establishment and care of a local native grass planting patch, with that species tailored to that local bioregion. Each grass patch’s carer receives an artwork called the ‘Conspirator’. The Conspirator’s functions are to: present an ongoing image of the local grass patch for the carer/performer, display information about the health and welfare of the patch, receive messages from the project's 'plant medium' - and also to accept a daily lungful of breath from the carer. All grassland sites, and these conspirators, will be connected via the Internet, with their daily actions being recorded and interpreted as a distributed artwork for online audiences. We aim to follow up this ‘performative’ stage of the work with a series of gallery exhibitions at the hosting sites that reflect upon the processes and the art, science and culture of human-native grass relationships.

CONTEXT:
We have chosen to focus on Australian indigenous grasses because - as plants, and then ‘minor ones’ at that for many of us - we typically disregard them, or consider them uninteresting, weedy or dull; forgetting how dependent we are upon them for our wellbeing: in fact they are a supercritical part of a system that powers animal feeding, provides the wheat and oats we eat daily and produces a great proportion of the air we breathe. Like the copious amounts of oxygen they give us in return for our exhaled carbon dioxide, grasses remain invisible to most of us. We also find them hard to differentiate - therefore remaining to their perilous state. The Australian State of Victoria now has less than 1% of its flowering grassland ecosystems intact, thanks to widespread conversion to imported pasture grasses and cereal (grass) crops which also rapidly escaped the farm gate, grazing hard-hoofed animals that compacted once friable soils, and widespread use of superphosphate fertiliser which rarely favours indigenous plants. And so - as with so many others, these richly biodiverse communities, have been quietly colonised out of existence in most Australian states.

Recent scientific research has also shown that plants express equivalences of memory, sentience and learning. But plants like grasses can also be much more than objects for human use - and talking them up on the basis that they may be ‘more like us’ won’t necessarily lead to us respecting them on their own terms. Is there a different way to think of plants like grasses therefore, as something much more than mere objects for our use, pleasure or gain? Could they possibly even be thought of as having their own ‘self-hood’, or capacity to act or intervene on their own terms? Such concepts are common within numerous traditional societies.  Carbon_Dating therefore sets out to ask, through an experimental art-science process, how might we be able to build a new form of respect and care for the ‘more than human’, world of native grasses.

WHO:
Collaborators include:
Donna Davis: Visual Artist (blog link)
Caitlin Franzmann: Socially Engaged Artist
Tania Leimbach: Institute for Sustainable Futures/Eco-critical writer
Luke Lickfold: Sound Artist
Prof. Jennifer Firn (Ecological Science/Plant Biology)
Prof. Peter Grace (Ecological Science/Soil Sciences)
Prof. Graham Kerr (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science)
Prof Ian Stewart (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science)

PARTNERS:
SERF (Samford Environmental Research Facility)
QUT Institute for Future Environments (IFE)
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body
This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland
QUT, Creative Industries, Brisbane

EXTENDED CREATIVE RATIONALE:
Science and ‘plant neurobiology’ now tell us that plants, and thus grasses, appear to possess their own unique versions of what we term ‘consciousness’, ‘intelligence’, ‘memory’ and ‘awareness’. These findings challenge our deep-seated anthropocentric, romanticised associations around plants, calling for a new ecological empathy, kinship and solidarity with them. This resonates with the ‘vegetal being’ and ‘consciousness’ writings of philosophers Luce Irigaray, Michael Marder, Prudence Gibson and Giovanni Aloi from Critical Plant Studies, multi-species advocates such as  Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing, and the braided, entwined wisdoms imaged by Indigenous scientist/writers such as Wall-Kimmerer and Tyson Yunkaporta. 

Two Speeds of Grass
Grass: this most widely spread of the flowering plant families, seems to pop up almost everywhere, especially after rain - and yet many of us remain almost entirely  ‘blind’ to its lives - or even its names; regarding it as at best utilitarian, a visual background, a nuisance to be slashed, or just plain boring. In Australia, a small number of introduced grasses have been able to flourish at extraordinary levels, almost everywhere - particularly in pastures, as commercial crops, and as garden lawns, routinely smothering, or at best living very well in almost every type of bioregion. As one of the most deliberately redistributed and cultivated plants across the globe, their presence underpins our food security and amenity, regulates our climate and provides us with vast amounts of oxygen.  

The extraordinary success, dynamism and adaptability of grasses have allowed them to go on take root, albeit unintentionally, far and wide beyond the farm gate, causing profound changes in landscapes - and not surprisingly posing an huge array of critical conservation challenges. Correspondingly many native grasses have done it tough. With little or no protection against the cloven animals of the first settlers, those introduced herbivores, rapidly ate them out. Steadily replaced by fertilised pasture, and pushed out of creek lines, savannahs and forests, their profusion has now mostly gone, or approaches extinction in many regions. Many of us would no longer recognise a native grassland if we saw one, and if so might likely, incorrectly, bemoan its lack of trees. And so, whilst they might be hanging on on in rare protected corners of the landscapes, like railway cuttings or country grave yards, without our interest or care going forward, the future of diverse grasslands in Australia (and the world) looks truly grim. 

ORIGINATING PROCESS?
The Carbon_Dating  Project seeks to shift this major-miniature tragedy in motion - by seeking to renew our relationship with grasses; and open our eyes, ears and senses to them - through a series of on ground conservation measures combined with whimsical arts-led experiments - all of which seek to spark a ‘love affair’ for native grasses, based upon trust and care between our two interconnected species. Our life-affirming project has been informed by a ‘creative incubator’ process in 2020-1 that cross-fertilised Ecological Science, Environmental Philosophy & Experimental Arts, brought also into dialogue with Human Physiology Science - in order to uncover the scientific & poetic connections between the grass ‘lungs of the earth’ & our own human breath physiology. 

This performative, hybrid of artwork, ecology and activism involves new collaborations with grassland scientist Professor Jenn Firn and plant-focussed artists Donna Davis and Caitlin Franzmann, who’ve deeply engaged plant ‘co-authors’ in prior works. We are also joined by prior collaborators - art/science theorist Tania Leimbach from the Institute for Sustainable futures, interactive sound artist Luke Lickfold, Marketeer/Photo-media Artist Andrea Higgins and nature/health social scientist Julie Dean. The deep knowledge of breath physiology will be brought by Prof. Graham Kerr (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science) and Prof. Ian Stewart (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science). Sites for grassland plantings and presentations will include SERF (Samford Ecological Research facility), the artists’ gardens, a network of indigenous conservation organisations across Qld, and significantly, online for global audiences.

Early fomative presentation, 'Aerial Pitfalls for Synapse Art+Science', 2018.  Event Details
Podcast discussing collaborations with Tania Leimbach (11/18)
Uncanny Valley Development blog (request link)