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Towards a Sympoietic Art Practice with Plants

Charlston, Linda Mary (2019) Towards a Sympoietic Art Practice with Plants. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

At a time of crisis in human relationships with the natural world, this practice-as-research project comprises selected artworks and a written thesis investigating co-creativity with plants. The openly exploratory and speculative research scrutinises changes to plant-artist relationality as I develop a sympoietic art practice with plants, conceived as ethically accountable, co-creative ‘making-with’ plants, inspired by Haraway’s 'naturecultures' (2016). Sympoietic practice engages affirmatively with posthuman ethics of non-exploitative, egalitarian and ecologically situated practice, re-conceptualises plant-artist relations and makes way for accepting plants as agentially-active, co-expressive partners (Bennett, 2010, Marder, 2013). Manifestations of sympoietic art practice explored through co-creative processes of growing, making and walking with-plants contribute to the variegated nature of practice-as-research by reaching out in multiple directions to connect feminist and posthumanist theories (Barad, 2007, Braidotti, 2013, Alaimo, 2016) with artistic research (Schwab, 2018), poetic encounters, science and everyday life. In response to sympoietic concerns, temporary assemblages of interconnected events add participation, performativity and ecological awareness to the poetry and production of the artist-book. Sympoietic art processes have revealed multiple hindrances to my relationship with plants despite artistic closeness. The novel concept of ‘plant de-coherence’ arose directly from these insights. Plant de-coherence enriches the existing theory of 'plant blindness' (Wandersee and Schussler, 2001, 1999) by releasing fresh metaphors from quantum theory to explore and nuance an understanding of lively relational exchanges during the practical and conceptual transition between plants and humans in co-creative practice. The thesis exposes de-coherence effects in art processes and audience interfaces in the tangle of cultural filters through which plants are encountered: anthropomorphism, aesthetics, representation, symbolism, and commodification of plants. By working creatively with an understanding of de-coherence effects sympoietic art practitioners are empowered to transform its negative impacts and mediate cocreative worlding with plants which recognise co-dependence in a rapidly changing environment.

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