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Jurema Action Plant

Imagine if we could communicate with plants and work together. Is it possible to reshape and redefine our tools to be coherent with the environment? If we could, I wonder if our treatment of the natural environment would change.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 17-04-2012

Ivan Henriques is a Brazilian artist, but according to him there is little difference between art, design and science.  “As an artist I can show insights and inspirations,” he says, “and insights mould the world we live in.  It is not necessary to create useful results, but I think by using science, which lies at the core of practically everything, we can find wonderful solutions for the future.”

This year at the Salone del Mobile in Milan Henriques is presenting the Jurema Action Plant, his MA graduation work from the Art Science Department at KABK.

This project has been months in the making with input and collaboration from scientists and research institutes.

Henriques original idea was to see if a plant could turn on a machine.   “I think almost all the nature we see is in someway designed,” he says, “so it made sense to try to intervene with nature at a micro level and you know they say, God created the world, but the Netherlands was created by the Dutch … it was a good starting point.”

To work, Henriques would need to empower a plant by giving it the capacity to act out its senses.  Plants, like all living things, have electrical signals that travel inside its cells.  What they don’t have are nerves or wires to communicate those signals.

Based on the tiny movements a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) makes when touched, Henriques collaborated with scientist Bert van Dujn to design a signal amplifier to read and beam differences in the electromagnetic field around the plant.

Then at a residency at V2_, he hacked  an old wheelchair, painted it yellow, constructed a robotic device smothered by Mimosa pudica plants, and connected it to the plants via a custom-made circuit board.

The electromagnetic variations caused by touching a plant, trigger movements of the robotic structure via a custom-made circuit board, and because the plants are on the robot, they also move.

“So in simple terms, if you touch a plant, it triggers the machine and it drives off,” Henriques says.  “It’s like foreseeing a biomachine and what the future could look like.  Of course everything won’t have plants attached, but it can work as an inspiration for other machines that will eventually be built.”

He gave a name to the machine - Jurema - and its skill is to communicate with plants.  “I like to think of it as a feedback system,” he says.

The Jurema Action Plant is a part of the Verbeke Foundation art collection in Belgium.

Images by Katherine Cunningham and Ivan Henriques.

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