In this animated video, a digitally processed landscape merges plants and humans, leaves and skin, roots and mouths. Chewing and swallowing sounds anticipate a narrating voice that reflects on the inherently cruel metabolic condition of all animal life. Our skin, unable to perform photosynthesis, cannot craft the nutrients we need departing from the matter of starlight and the chemical components present in our surroundings—like plants are able to do. Therefore, we are essentially doomed to exploit the biochemical work of other living beings in order to survive. As argued by the narrating voice, the fact that we must take a life (or at the very least exploit a plant’s work) to stay alive is an inescapable biological feature of the animal body and a result of evolution. However, a general carelessness grounded in human exceptionalism and in the Western logic of extraction is preventing us from acknowledging this exchange with a sense of gratitude for the life we take or use.
To See Without Man is a poetic attempt to make contact with the vegetal mind, in an effort to understand the plants’ modes of sensing their surroundings. Can mind-expanding symbiosis with plants lead us to a broader understanding of their ways of seeing, communicating, and remembering? Can the leaf as an energy-processing surface provide a practical tool to rethink extractive practices, those that are leading to an anthropogenic depletion of resources? Can photosynthesis provide a speculative framework to imagine a future in which the human body has learned to process starlight and has partly become vegetal?
For this work, Ingrid K. Bjørnaali has worked with 3D scans of plants from the Nightshade family (Belladonna, Mugwort, and Tobacco) which are used for medicinal and ritual purposes, and are grown by Viktor Pedersen at home. The spatial sound design has been conducted in collaboration with Notam (Norwegian Center for Technology, Art, and Music) in Oslo.