Ngā Manawataki o te Taiao: Quantum physics, digital aesthetics and embodied knowledge.

Through imaging technologies such as electron microscopes, quantum physics has been slowly proving to itself that all particles in the universe are deeply entangled. Now, the curious situation exists where Western science has ‘validated’ what mātauranga Māori has known and preserved for thousands of years. A close analogy for the unseen movements of quanta is mauri, while the structure these quanta form with other particles, emerges in wairua. Tracing the connections between quanta, nano particles, mauri and wairua, this talk reflects upon threads within media art, physics, medicine, data and posthuman design, to weave a new path forward between Western and Indigenous science, philosophy and cosmology.

Dr Rewa Wright (Ngai Tawake) is a media arts and computational design researcher with a collaborative and transdisciplinary practice, encompassing exhibition, performance, publication, presentation, and community engagement. Working with various modes of analogue and digital art since 1998, Rewa has over 20 years of experience in various aspects of motion-based and sonic media, including live performance, music, digital design, and virtual image creation. As an intra-active media designer, experimental media artist and inverse technologist, research is both traditional and practice-based. Rewa’s projects weave together emerging technologies, Indigenous justice, clean blockchains and digital healthcare. An ecologically conscious researcher, she commits to ensuring her techniques and methods are sustainable, create positive social impact in both local and global communities, and respect Indigenous knowledge systems. Her Māori heritage (Ngāi Tawake/Te Kaimaroke/Te Uri o Hau hapu of Aotearoa/New Zealand) is a strength, and affords the capacity to draw on ancient non-Western knowledge from an embodied as well as a scholarly perspective. Rewa’s extended reality installations have been included in the SIGGRAPH Asia Art Gallery (2019), Ars Electronica: In Kepler’s Gardens (2020), the Aotearoa Digital Arts Symposium (2022), the Queensland Extended Reality Festival (2022), and several iterations of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA). She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Practice (Film, Screen & Animation) at Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

A photo of Dr Rewa Wright. She is wearing glasses.

Provocation: Illuminating Plant Blindness
While homo sapiens as a species possess an allegedly superior consciousness in relation to others, we have also evolved extreme bias toward things we perceive as peripheral. One example is found in the phenomenon of ‘plant blindness’. ‘Plant Blindness’ is an evolutionary glitch where humans notice other animals more than plants. While we explore the Anthropocene as a scientific and artistic narrative, as well there is the meta-story of a humanity gone wild, evidenced by the visible scars left on Planet Earth. Is plant blindness a further signpost to the visible decay that points materially to a gradually diminishing biosphere? If the human brain notices plants less, does that mean we value them less than other animals?

In this short provocation, I consider the question of human evolutionary limitations in the human brain, and, going against this biological limit, how Indigenous cultures worldwide have maintained a more-than-human link with plants as nonhuman partners. As well, I consider a potential slippage between the scientific term Anthropocene and the speculative stage that we might term Anthropo(s)cene. On the stage of the Anthropo(s)cene, where human visibility is inflected with the gradual becoming-invisible of flora and fauna, affords a pertinent time to consider our plant kin. Being subatomic and microscopic, plant cellular processes are notoriously hard to observe, yet we can broadly trace their movements through monitoring the currents and signals plants give off as they live.

According to plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, humans notice animals far more readily than plants. Mancuso illustrates ‘plant blindness’, by the simple act of showing humans pictures with people, animals and plants, and observing that time and again many human subjects notice the plants last: after the humans and other animals. Are we homo sapiens ignorant of the gifts of plants, their support for the oxygen cycle that keeps us all alive, and feeds the food we eat? Sometimes, the answer is ‘yes’. Existing within the pressing temporal reality of an entropically spinning climate emergency, we examine the idea that art has a responsibility to gesture toward new ways of co-composing with our non-human kin, in a way that draws attention to their significant contribution to all life.

Projections: Uncalculated ~ (with Simon Howden) Biological Rhythms

Through the biological sciences, we understand plant metaprocesses such as osmosis and photosynthesis, yet because their cellular structure is so delicate, plants are notoriously hard to study in fine detail. Sonifying plant signals affords a method to explore their bio-rhythms in an accessible form for a non-scientific audience. As part of our bespoke and innovative method, the electrical signals from plants are converted to audio and passed through the program Touch Designer, where the plant signals activate complex geometrical forms. These forms are embodiments of the biological rhythms of living plants.