Curatorial Projects > Let's Talk of a System (2010)

Suzanne Husky
Rewilding with Intention, 2010
Video still (Cobi Von Tonder in Montgomery Grove, Ukiah, CA)

In the 1960s, American polygraph expert Cleve Backster performed controversial experiments investigating biocommunication in plants using a polygraph machine. His theory of “primary perception” of plants asserts that plants experience pain, pleasure, fear, affection, and have the ability to communicate with humans and other forms of life in a recognizable manner. Against modern scientific practice, Backster’s experiments were criticized as pseudo-science; yet contemporary animism lives on via popular culture where plant spirits are recurrently portrayed (e.g. Princess Mononoke, Avatar). On the other hand, scientists have actively studied plants’ reaction to various stimuli and have also documented remarkable behavior of plant communication, for example, signals between acacia trees that cause other acacias to release toxins into their leaves when being grazed on by a giraffe. Whether fueled by human psychology or physiological mechanisms, the ancient pagan idea of trees having ears and plant anthropomorphism in general is inherent to human condition. Suzanne Husky’s body of work examines our complex relation with flora.

In this new body of work, Husky takes a playful approach to climate change.  Her project was initially inspired during a recent artist residency in the Pyrenees Mountains, where she worked with scientists specializing in global warming in that part of Europe.  She learned of the impact of rising temperatures on the trees in the Pyrenees, which would cause the leaves to fall later than normal, creating an unintended contribution to global warming, as the leaves would retain the heat in the forest longer than normal.  Husky worked with a local choir to sing winter songs to the forest, to induce the trees into feeling that it was a colder temperature, allowing them to drop their leaves.  In this series of new videos, Husky collaborates with a number of local musicians in performing original compositions in Bay Area forests and parks.  The songs are written for the animals and insects, warning them of the impact of global warming and suggesting migration to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures. Each performer chose and evaluated a landscape and acted accordingly. Some worked with frequencies plants are known to be sensitive to; other performers meditated or wrote songs.

Husky's work has existed in that gap between art and science, activism and mainstream culture. Here, the actions exist on the thin line between science and superstition. In Rewilding with Intention, Husky asks again if there is a more sensible way of being here on land.

Let's Talk of a System

May 19 - July 3, 2010
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA