ACMI proudly presents the premiere of Tully Arnot’s latest work Epiphytesa multi-sensory virtual reality (VR) project exploring the sentience of plants, in the latest installment of the $80,000 Mordant Family VR Commission series.
Set in an abstract representation of Tully’s childhood backyard, Epiphytes consists of an environment characterized by a diffuse and changing magenta palette. Reliance on sight is reduced in favor of sound and smell to influence the user’s bodily responses in virtual space. The the work highlights alternative forms of plant communication and consciousness, inviting the user to question their own perception.
Developed during the Australian bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic in response to the current climate crisis, Epiphytes uses forms implicit in nature such as the shadows of an invisible canopy and moving, amorphous forms to elicit feelings of solastalgia – an emotional distress at a loss of natural environments. Simultaneously, the work encourages a more symbiotic and interconnected way of being in the world, building on the premise of the work’s botanical namesake: the epiphyte – an organism that feeds on the air, water and natural waste of its environment to give back to its ecosystem.
Epiphytes features interviews with evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi, and blind teacher/researcher and echolocation activist Thomas Tajo. Arranging these sonic elements in the VR environment, Tully invokes user curiosity and exploration, while generating a conversational dialogue between these three diverse theorists.
Field recordings of local birds and other ecological sounds complement the theorists’ recorded conversations, along with sounds depicting water and nutrients flowing through trees, suggesting a natural environment that is either made or made of. disappearing. Audio is controlled in space, using virtual reality as a powerful acoustic tool to represent sounds that cannot be created in reality.
Artist Tully Arnot said: “With the support of ACMI and the Mordant Family VR Commission, I had the opportunity to use VR to imagine the perception of plants and explore multisensory ways of being in the world. By decentering the human experience, I hope the project will encourage the public to think about more caring and interconnected relationships we can have with each other and with our ecosystems.