Capítulo 2 - Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio ya no estaba ahí
Walking through the hallways of the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno in Cuenca, Ecuador, you may find yourself in a very special gallery. It is like you are suddenly transported to another dimension - another light, humidity, smell, sound and feeling of an otherworldly environment. This ambient submerges you to a big art installation including sculptures made out of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), mushrooms, organic substrate, recovered fishing nets and distinct plastic waste, along with a video, a multichannel sound design and a series of drawings.
This installation is the latest work of Ecuadorian multimedia artist Paul Rosero Contreras, presented on the 15th. Bienal de Cuenca curated by Blanca De La Torre. It is part of a long-standing research project focusing on experimental art & science methods for environmental recovery. Within the project, there are attempts to treat terrestrial ecosystems affected by everyday plastic pollution as well as experiments on the biodegradation of abandoned fishing nets called "ghost nets" found in marine ecosystems. The artist has been involved in a collaborative project for more than years with nets retrieved from the coast of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, where the number of ghost nets stranded on rocky reefs has increased dramatically in the last ten years, causing changes in marine biodiversity.
Rosero's projects involved doses of speculative realism, scientific information and fictional narratives. His body of work intertwines distinct epistemologies, ranging from indigenous thinking to the history of science. He explores topics related to geopolitics, interspecies reciprocity, environmental issues and experimentation on future sustainable settings. Rosero holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts – CalArts and a Master in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media from Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Spain. Currently, Rosero works as a professor/researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
PAUL ROSERO CONTRERAS
Besides recovered fishing nets, for the production of this work, Rosero uses collected cigarette butts (one of the most abundant and toxic plastic polluters on the planet) and plastic bottles that serve as molds and structures. With this he develops an installation in the form of a forest of hybrid plants, using cacti and succulents as reference. These living sculptures are the result of the biodegradation process of the aforementioned materials. The plants are produced from several experimental processes, where the mycelium of the fungi grows, metabolizes and forms the object containing plastic waste inside.
Along with the cactus forest, the artist presents a video and a series of drawings as botanic illustrations of these new hybrid plants, species characterized for being resilient to extreme conditions. This gesture invites us to imagine non-human ways of problem-solving stating the existence of "intelligence" beyond the human and the notion changes in deep time to face socio-ecological crisis.
We talked to Paul to ask him directly some questions and learn more about this work.
— Is this work an ongoing project? According to the title. For how long have you been working on this and what does it mean "Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio ya no estaba ahí"?
— Yes, this is an ongoing project that I originally started back in 2013 while I was based in Los Angeles. I've been working on the concept of hybrid objects either with fungi, silkworms, 3d printers, or plants during these last years. El Pensamiento de las Plantas is a long-term project presented as chapters. In this case, chapter #2, "Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio ya no estaba ahí" is named after the shortest story in Literature History, by guatemalteco writer Augusto Monterroso. It refers to the possibility of time traveling and daydreaming. I was imagining a forest eating waste landfills. Trees getting the shapes of plastic bottles. It is like a snake swallowing dinner in one piece. A body getting reshaped by another body. I think in this project there is always a concern about new materials, biomimicry and deep time coming into the process. But, this project has also to do with non-human intelligence. I spend a lot of time trying to understand how plants behave and their relations to other beings. In this case, the installation relates to mycorrhizal associations between fungi and plant roots. I like the fact of trees communicating with each other through an underground fungal network. There is room for further research, fiction and speculation.
— Being inside this space is a very interesting multi-sensorial experience - sculptures, aquarelles, video, smell, sound and even humidity. Why did you decide to present "El Pensamiento de las Plantas " in such an immersive way?
— I tend to work in that direction. I'm interested in proposing embodied experiences where the audiovisual input goes hand by hand with other senses. In this case, it is a sort of consequence because I've been working for years on some ideas including different senses, so there are a few stimuli that I wanted to activate at the same time. I like to create installations precisely because of this. At the end of the day, it is a proposal for living a moment in time and space. It is not for only your eyes nor for your ears, it is not only an aesthetic or intellectual experience, , but it may be a very emotional one or even something that you cannot describe. Immersion works in that way. Having a feeling of being present and absorbing the outside through your skin.
— The team that worked on this project is quite big. What stages did this project take? Which difficulties and discoveries did you meet during preparation?
— One of my interests relies on the combination of fungi and plastics in different levels. In the past, I've explored the adaptation and symbiosis of these materials as ways to approach organic-artificial dynamics. In this line, this project has a heavy component on the notion of biodegradation of plastic waste by means of fungi. So, one of the difficulties is actually seeing if this really happens or what phenomena arises from that. In consequence, after different experiments and some mistakes, we learned how to metabolize plastic waste in mycelium and getting a living fungus in the form of a cactus was a kind of a psychedelic way to show it.
Afterward, bio fabricating a forest of cacti and succulents was quite a very enjoyable challenge. It was a big installation in terms of knowledge, equipment and transportation.
There were six people directly involved in the project working at the studio and during the installation. Paulette Goyes, Mateo Chiriboga and Shirley Iza helped me to grow mycelium and to form the trees. Anna Shvets and Pedro Rosero took charge of the production.
I said it is an enjoyable challenge because I find it very fun to grow things and see them acquiring agency. This is a setting where intersubjectivity is constantly redefining itself. The fungi kingdom is such an incredible place to dig in.
— Some people entering the gallery and walking through all these cacti share their impression - it's like a post-apocalyptic world when just plants survived, what do you think about this perspective and in general about the intelligence of our neighbors on planet Earth?
— I love it. The space looked for creating an otherworldly experience, a post-natural environment. I'm not sure if the idea of a post-apocalyptic landscape was in my mind, but I definitely wanted to produce an invitation to time travel. A possibility to transport yourself to some other multisensorial reality. I don't use the image of apocalypsis in my work. I'm more focused on the idea of becoming or emergent phenomena: life always finding a way to persist and manifest. In this sense, I guess I'm more interested in how to create life rather than accepting death. From this perspective, resilience is a key concept involved. Being resilient is a form of intelligence. A fundamental quality of intelligence relates to the capacity of problem-solving. In the process of terraforming, plants do this all the time. Adaptation and survival are part of problem-solving. Earth beings know much more than us. Enrique Symms, a crazy Argentinian writer said "A Galapagos turtle knows way more than a philosopher does" and it makes me think… But, what kind of knowledge are we talking about? I'm very interested in behavior and communication. For example, when a shameplant (Mimosa pudica) closes itself after touching it, it is a reaction to something becoming language. What does the shameplant know about a human touching it?
— How do you see the development of "El Pensamiento de las plantas"?
— I see this project as very fluid. Every chapter is a story on an aspect of plant life, either due to their capacity to produce images or their innate and distributed thinking. There is plenty of space to play with a botanical appreciation or speculative stands. A new chapter explores how plants rule the world from a gastronomic point of view. In El Pensamiento de las Plantas I try to find situations where plants interact with other species in such an intense way that it could become stories of magical realism. In this sense, there are many voices involved. Such relations may be between plants, or plants and insects, or plants and humans or other animals. There is more to come…
Team: Paulete Goyes, Shirley Iza, Mateo Jaramillo, Anna Shvets, Pedro Rosero