What would it mean if forests owned themselves? This question inspired terra0, a Berlin-based art group, to ask whether ecosystems should have rights similar to those we humans enjoy.
Since 2016, the group has been using art and new technologies to demonstrate the implications of these questions, and to explore how relationships between plants and humans could be structured in a less exploitative way. Inspired by the traditions of Land Art and Social Sculpture, they create artworks that seek to transform our relationship with nature and society.
terra0's early artworks consisted of living plants that the group modified with various technological devices to give them agency in a human-centered environment. The piece Premna Deamon (2018), for example, was a sculpture made from a living bonsai tree. terra0 equipped the tree with a sensor for soil moisture and temperature, which allowed a mini-computer to monitor the tree's health. By displaying this information on a web-based interface, the augmented bonsai communicated its health to human beings. It could then hire caretakers to provide water, lighting and food. To pay for this help, the sculpture used cryptocurrency, a form of digitised money that was donated by human visitors. This automation was made possible by a smart contract, a software programme which can administer digital money.
With their artwork Flowertokens (2018), terra0 took a step towards their goal of helping an entire forest to own itself. They began small, with individual plants. The group planted 100 dahlia flowers, and transformed each of them into a digital artwork. These pieces took the form of NFTs, unique digital tokens with attached images that cannot be copied, and that can be traded online. The digital files were updated every day, to reflect the changes in the physical flower, such as its growth and health. For terra0, these artworks are prototypes which show how technology can help non-human lifeforms to become legally and economically independent entities. In this way their work demonstrates how plants and entire ecosystems can one day be recognised as a sovereign subject. This achievement will be a crucial step towards an ecologically just world, and away from the human-centric attitude that fuels ecological crises, and endangers all life on earth.
Inspired by this vision, LAS is working with terra0 towards realising the large-scale forest artwork. This ambitious project revisits and updates the group’s initial concept to more accurately reflect the deep entanglement between ecosystems and social systems, acknowledging the importance of human actors in caring and advocating for the forest. It raises many questions concerning the ways we value nature and the kinds of agency we are willing to grant non-humans. It proposes a way in which humans, nature and technology can work together towards the common goal of interspecies thriving.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg : Pollinator Pathmaker