During her residency at Utopiana, Gwyneth Anderson explored the concept of plant seed cells as not only building blocks of life, but also physical manifestations of time: individual increments that build to a larger whole, much like the pictures that compose an animation. This was prompted by the English homophone of “cell” and “cel” – short for “celluloid”, the clear plastic sheet which is drawn and painted on for the production of hand made animations.
One plant Anderson focused on was the Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as Thale Cress, a tiny mustard green which grows wild on Utopiana’s property. Arabidopsis produces seeds consisting of approximately 5,500 cells each. Thus, Anderson created an animation with 5,500 drawings, serving as a time-based portrait of the Arabidopsis seed.
Depending on who you talk to, Arabidopsis is a weed; a model organism of plant biology; or, among a scant few, an edible mustard green. It’s heavily researched in biology departments around the globe, and by the end of 2015 will be one of the first plants grown on the moon (…within a container). Despite its significant role in science, it has a very low profile. Perhaps because its flowers are small and “plain”, or because it’s not large and stoic like a tree, it does not draw much attention. Even many biologists studying Arabidopsis refer to it as a weed.
By calling a plant a “weed”, one immediately injects notions of good and bad, regardless of whether a plant is beneficial to the land on which it grows, or its nutritional offerings to humans. In fact, Arabidopsis is perfectly edible, making for a tasty salad. But because of the preferences (and lack of awareness, most likely) of many gardeners, and because of its presence in cement cracks and overgrown lots, it’s perceived as being a nuisance. Not beautiful, not beneficial. As with stereotypes among humans, the Arabidopsis’ identity is determined by others’ uninformed perception, not its inherent qualities.
Under the care of a human, the future life of an Arabidopsis seed is full of possibilities, ranging from the glory of touching the moon, to the degradation of being crushed on a sidewalk. Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that Arabidopsis seeds withhold a huge secret from humans, a deep mystery that continues to flummox biologists: dormancy.
Every plant seed experiences dormancy. It is a period of time when a seed is receiving the proper amount of light, water, and warmth for germination, but still does not grow. It is as if the seed is choosing the right moment, the right ray of sunlight, the right cooling breeze, before it sends its rootlet down into the soil. When Anderson began her animation, she worked next to dormant Arabidopsis seeds. The seeds were poised on the surface of nutritious soil, under tents of clear plastic to contain warmth and moisture. Perhaps trepidatious of how they would be received, the seed’s cells waited with heavy anticipation. This anticipation is what’s conveyed, through movement, in each cel of Anderson’s animation.
Cellule will be screened after sunset outdoors, in the presence of the Arabidopsis seedlings.
Gwyneth Anderson (Chicago, USA)
Gwyneth Anderson works mainly with media that play with temporality, studying perception, empathy and the relationship between the subject and the public.
She has shown or projected her work in diverse galleries, festivals and outdoor spaces in the United States and elsewhere, including: the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, Sullivan Galleries, Woman Made Gallery, Hyde Park Art Center, 6018 NORTH, and Links Hall in Chicago; the Freies Museum of Berlin; and the XL Art Space in Helsinki.
She was artist in residence at Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago), Harold Arts (Ohio), and at the Arteles Creative Center (Finland).