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Plants create music and light in a new art installation

The plants that are a part of the "Arcadia" installation are native to Virginia. After the year-long exhibit wraps up, they will be planted around the campus of George Mason University.
Through sensors attached to the plants, Arcadia tracks the bio-rhythms of the plant, which - through a computer program - 'translates' those signals into music, as well as controls for a lighting system.
Cameras throughout the installation capture video of the plants, while they create the music and light display. The exhibit can be heard and seen via an online site, 24-7.
On the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, people can walk by the greenhouse on campus and see the Arcadia installation. In the evening, the lights from Arcadia illuminate the interior.
Posted at 10:01 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 12:48:57-05

FAIRFAX, Va. — It’s a performance of light and sound, blending together to create harmony in an art installation called “Arcadia.”

The performers creating this spectacle, though, aren’t your normal musicians. They’re not even human.

They’re plants.

“One of our faculty referred to it as, ‘letting us hear the songs of the plants,’” said Don Russell, university curator for the School of Art at George Mason University. “So, in a sense, we’re looking at the plants as artists.”

It’s all happening inside the greenhouse on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Arcadia is the brainchild of musician and artist Sam Nester.

“It works in some ways like an EKG (electrocardiogram) or in that kind of machine, in the sense that there are these sensors that register the kind of electrical conductance that is happening within the system of the plant,” Nester said.

Based on those sensors attached to the plants, a computer program translates the plants’ electrical impulses into music and light, creating an orchestra of plants that is live-streamed 24-7 for anyone to see on the internet.

“You can log in at any time and you can see how the plants are responding. If it was a sunny day or if they were just watered, if they’re sick with something or whatever the case may be,” said Yassmin Salem, Arcadia Project Leader at GMU. “You can really have a window into what’s happening with that plant by experiencing the music and the lights.”

In addition to creating art, researchers working in the greenhouse hope the data produced by the Arcadia plants will help them improve how they grow things, like prized ginseng.

“I might be able to see how the ginseng might feel about the root rot or the presence of the root rot, beneficial or the probiotics that I’m adding, to see if the plant is responding and how quickly,” said Donielle Nolan, GMU’s greenhouse and gardens program manager.

For creator Sam Nester, the idea is to get people thinking about the environment and plants a little differently.

“It's hopefully going to create a deeper relationship that we can kind of all recognize outside of that installation when we go back to our homes, to our wonderful house plants or look out the window,” Nester said, “and kind of remind ourselves that it's not just us in this wonderful world.”

All of the plants in the Arcadia exhibit are native to Virginia. When the year-long installation wraps up, they will be planted around the university campus. To watch and listen to the Arcadia stream, click here.