Botanical Resonance: Artworks in the Exhibition

Botanical Resonance: Plants and Sounds in the Garden is currently installed in the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum, which is open for visitors Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30am-4:30pm. The exhibition content is available online at the Museum Twitter account here and the Museum Instagram account here. Please check the Museum site here for updates and future online events.

An integral part of the Botanical Resonance exhibition is the contemporary artworks created by three artists who were specially commissioned to interpret the subject of plants and sounds.

These three creators approached their artwork installations using their unique artistic voice and techniques to provide unique, site-specific opportunities for visitors to the Museum exhibition and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Learn more from the artists in brief video interviews here, and join us for a Winter 2023 talk series with each artist to learn more about the process of how they created the artworks for the exhibition:

Winter Talk Series: All talks start at 12:30 p.m.

Finding the right artists for the exhibition
The idea for curating an exhibition on plants and sounds came to Museum Curator, Nezka Pfeifer, in Summer 2019 after she had met German artist Annika Kappner at a digital arts workshop in Amsterdam where Annika was teaching. Annika Kappner had created multiple soundwalks for botanical gardens in Europe, and was excited at the prospect of creating something unique for the Missouri Botanical Garden. In realizing how much plants affect and create sound, Nezka understood that this would be an unusual topic to feature in a museum exhibition. Indeed, the Botanical Resonance exhibition is a first to explore this relationship. A delayed opening due to the pandemic gave each of the artists more time to conceptualize the work.

The next artist Nezka contacted about the exhibition was Kevin Harris, who is well-known in art and museum circles in St. Louis. Kevin creates multimedia sound and visual installations that explore communication in myriad ways. He was very interested in creating an experience at the Museum that would also offer an opportunity for visitors to feel the vibrations of the sounds he created. The third artist included in the exhibition is Brooke Erin Goldstein, an artist who works with textiles and creates quilted room installations exploring family relationships and communication. When Nezka reached out about the subject matter, Brooke too was very excited at the possibility to focus on a different type of family communication, that of plants, to create her installation.

Plants and Sounds in Meditation

As an artist who considers all the senses in her work, Annika designed her soundwalks to begin in the Museum but bring listeners outside to enjoy the sounds in any of the spaces at the Garden. Over the course of 2021, Nezka and Annika had many video calls discussing the plants growing at the Garden, the spaces in and around the Museum, and tours of the paths throughout the Garden campus during different seasons. All of the works Annika created for Botanical Resonance extend the experience of plants and sounds outdoors from the Museum into the Garden, but also explore the multi-sensory experience of paying attention to the sounds of plants and nature surrounding us every day. Annika’s perspective is multi-layered and grounded in working with the history of the land.

Victoria listening to Liquid Landscapes in the Chinese garden; photo by Nezka Pfeifer

The works Annika created are called Liquid Landscapes and consist of two soundwalks accessed via QR codes, and two silk art prints that are on view at the Sachs Museum. Each soundwalk (Path 1 and Path 2) are 22 minutes, 22 seconds long, and can be accessed at these links: Path 1 and Path 2.

Liquid Landscapesinvites you to engage with the flora and fauna inhabiting the Garden through your senses. Across the soundwalks, visitors are invited to experience a deep receptivity and awareness of humanity’s coexistence with all forms of life; counterbalancing the notions of efficiency and performative drive, which define contemporary urban life. The sound worlds of the guided meditations are developed in collaboration with composer Eric Maltz. They interweave imagined plant sounds with field recordings and composed textures, fusing the seemingly opposing qualities of artificial and natural sound, recreating natural sounds with digital or mechanical equipment, and vice versa. The digital silk prints similarly interweave imagery of mycelium, online networks and floral designs. They are created digitally superimposing and altering analogue drawings, computer generated images, and photographs. The silk banners are both visual mind maps of and entry points to the journey of Liquid Landscapes. (You can see the full prints in a previous blog post.)

Liquid Landscapes silk print, detail; photo by Annika Kappner

Liquid Landscapes is part of Deep Planetary Sensing, Annika’s long-term participatory research project consisting of immersive installations, participatory performances, soundwalks, guided meditations and workshops to reconnect with our individual and collective bodies, and to enter into conversation with GAIA, the living planet we are part of. The project seeks to add experiential perspectives to the contemporary relationship between human, nature, and technology, addressing concepts of non-duality and otherness to enable an emancipation of ways of sensing. It is supported by the Amsterdamse Fonds voor de Kunst, Creative Industries Fund, Elisabeth Vermaat Müller Fonds and the Mondriaan Fonds. You can learn more about Annika’s work at her site.

Deep Planetary Sensing performance; photo by Annika

Immerse yourself in sound

Kevin Harris is an artist, curator, composer, and electrical engineer whose practice is broadly focused on using media installations to establish methods of communication and communal conditions by which to explore the psychological manifestations of industry and empire. For Botanical Resonance, Kevin created Welcome Home Habitat, a multi-channel, immersive sound installation that recreates the acoustic habitat of several non-native plants found at the Garden. Imagined as “a gift to visiting plants,” the artwork explores the complex relationship between a plant’s native acoustic habitat and its health and happiness. As humans continue to conquer and dominate the natural world, it is evident the many ways in which we use plants for our own benefit. Welcome Home Habitat seeks to playfully correct this imbalance, giving something back to plants in the form of the soothing sounds of their native habitat.

Welcome Home Habitat gallery view; photo by Virginia Harold

Kevin recreated all of the sounds in Welcome Home Habitat using a vast array of synthetic techniques. The installation uses 12 computer-controlled speakers to explore the sounds of far-off rainforests and dense river basins. Synchronized speakers focus on elements of biophony, the collective sound vocal non-human animals create in each given environment, and geophony, the remaining elements a natural habitat, placed and treated in a manner to suggest depth and movement. Visitors who know the sounds of the rainforest well are amazed to learn that the sounds have all been synthesized and not recorded from nature. Kevin designed the installation to include a section where visitors can feel the sounds in the gallery. By using special circuits that resonate in wooden panels, visitors place their hands on the hand pads to feel changes in frequency and intensity. Some of the species that Kevin featured in his synthesized sounds include the Rufous nightjar, Cinereous tinamoua ground bird found in lowland forests in northern South America), a Howler monkey, Uakari (a primate found in the Amazon basin), as well as crickets and cicadas; he also features a downpour rainstorm too. There is also a video component to the installation that was shot in the Garden’s Climatron.

Welcome Home Habitat hand panels detail; photo by Virginia Harold

Our world and daily lives are bombarded with so many different types of sounds, particularly in a city like St. Louis, where sounds of nature go right along with the sounds of cars, buses, and human activity. We’re not able to separate what an environment in nature can sound like without any human interference. Kevin’s artwork creates the opportunity to be immersed in the sounds and vibrations and respond to them without being distracted by the rest of the world around us. Learn more about Kevin’s work here.

Welcome Home Habitat video detail; photo by Virginia Harold

See sound visualized

Brooke Erin Goldstein is an artist and curator who works with textiles.

“From the moment we are born our relationship with textiles begins. Color, texture and repeating patterns not only cover us but surround us. Fibers are the supporting players of our memories and daily actions. As a textile artist I use our human connection with fabric to immerse the viewer in an emotional experience,” she said.

In designing and installing her quilted room installation Reverberations, Brooke took the challenge of creating an artwork about plants and sounds in a nontraditional sense. She chose to visualize these auditory occurrences by using layered patchwork, fabric painting, quilting, and radial composition. Highlighting the emotional aspects of these plants’ lives as well as the multi-sensory nature of how they “talk,” falls in line with the themes in her greater body of work.

Reverberations detail textures view; photo by Virginia Harold

In Reverberations, Brooke abstractly illustrate the feelings and purpose behind the sounds made by the two most common plants in our lives: grass and trees. We don’t often think about the social and emotional lives of plants, and we overlook the auditory aspect of how plants collectively utilize sound to respond to stress and trauma. In this immersive installation, the gallery has been bisected, and you see the space as half above and half below the soil’s surface.

On the right, the gallery explores the screaming “sound” grass makes when it is cut. Brooke, was fascinated with the synesthesia that happens as the cut grass smell is the olfactory manifestation of the distressing scream that grass makes to signal to other grasses that they are in danger and a threat may be headed their way. This sound, smell and visual event fully represents the emotional life of grass and gives us an insight into how plants “feel.”

The left side of the installation takes you below ground level to give a view into the symbiotic fungal system that make tree roots able to communicate, commonly known as the “wood wide web.” Tree roots in the forest send each other sound waves and other signals through the fungi to warn others of disease, invasive insects, drought, etc. They also send each other resources such as moisture and nutrients to keep the community thriving. Scientists have found that tree roots not only talk but also listen. Specifically, trees can “hear” water and have their roots grow in its direction to find it. The individual yet interwoven relationship between these species opens up our understanding of nature as a societal collective exchanging ideas and resources for the betterment of their community.

Reverberations gallery view; photo by Virginia Harold

Brooke builds and makes the quilted panels for the installation from vintage bed sheets, synthetic quilt batting, fabric marker, ink, acrylic fabric paint, and other fabrics she finds. If you look carefully once you are in the installation, you can see tiny clues of these materials (look for little tags and hemmed edges of the sheets!). The entire size of the installation is the size of the Museum’s South gallery: 26’4” long by 19’10” wide, and 8’4” high. Check out this timelapse video on Instagram of the artwork being installed. The installation took Brooke and her partner Steven Lubecki three days, including the armature, hanging the quilts, sewing them together, and prepping the installation for being on view. See more of Brooke’s work here.

Reverberations detail view; photo by Virginia Harold

It is the unique relationship that these artists have with sound, plants, and the senses in their work that makes their artworks extremely integral to the interdisciplinary exhibitions that I am curating at the Sachs Museum. Their interpretations further extend the understanding and experience of how plants and sounds connect and impact our daily lives. You are welcome to experience these wonderful artworks onsite at the Sachs Museum through March 31, 2023 but you can also visit them virtually in the online tour.

Nezka Pfeifer—Museum Curator, Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum


Grateful thanks to the sponsors of the exhibition: Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg, The Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation, and Tony & Cindy Kooyumjian. Many thanks to artists Brooke Erin Goldstein, Kevin Harris, and Annika Kappner for their site-specific artworks in the exhibition, and for sharing their thoughts and processes throughout their creative periods to share with the visitors and public enjoying the exhibition and digital content. Especial thanks to the Sachs Museum remote intern Stefanie Hermsdorf who contributed to the research on synesthesia and sound.

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