Dear PLSS creators,
In every "project" we each can respond once in a while to the question "why?" The responses can be personal or collective. One could respond more than once in the course of a project, revising one's responses. This is a third, preliminary response. How would you respond to the same question?
Like all student exercises, PLSS enjoys some political freedom in its response to the given conditions. PLSS enjoys some technical and eco-ethico freedom, too. I see PLSS as an exercise, meta- to, and preparatory for the research work of the TML over the subsequent years.
From the height of 20c euphoria, there echoed the slogan "Man the maker." We make things; we make tools to make things; we even make sense. In market and technology, we "make." Even among artists, "making" is good. These are all different ways of making, but it seems inescapable that, two and a half thousand years after Zhuangzi and Homer died, we now live in the world by making -- it's part of our condition as modern humans. Twenty years ago, Felix Guattari asked whether we could make and act ecologically, which for him meant simultaneously in "the environment, social relations and human subjectivity." The Three Ecologies works out some of the ramifications of that challenge.
In the introduction, the translator wrote: "It might have been better for us if the Earth had screamed, as it did for Professor Challenger. Instead it has gone eerily, silent." But plants have always been the silent part of the Earth. Can we learn to hear that refrain, and could we learn to speak in concert with it? If it is part of our condition as humans to make -- meaning to make and use technology (remember even language has its technology, e.g. grammar) -- then what are the techniques we can learn that do not merely project the conventional divides of "media-computational" vs "biological / organic" vs "socio-political" technologies onto our own working medium and our own working environment? I think learning to grow plants as new media, and new media as living material will be a strong challenge to our assumptions about both kinds of material (matter, energy, affect).
What I mean by freedom in this instance is that for the TML, the PLSS exercise is valuable not as a direct production of publishable knowledge and technical solutions to problems (though it may well generate such knowledge given a level of craft), but as a watershed exercise for us to learn how to make things in a different way, where the stuff of the making really is a more credible alloy of biotic, machinic, and symbolic materials. The way we design: the conditioning of the making could also become a credible alloy of what conventionally are entirely disconnected techniques. That very disconnection is a deep part of our crisis. The techniques include computation and carpentry yes, but to be credible they also should include social techniques (taking responsibility for the plants who we invite to stay, and for the other members of the TML with whom we maintain the room in living order), as well as aesthetic techniques. It matters not only what we make, but also how we make -- poetry as well as engineering.
If the engineering is well-understood and readily available for denaturing and adaptation to alien purpose, then all the better, because then we can move on to the challenges of transversal design and poetic expression. For example, as a preliminary, we could ask, if we take seriously the fact that what we grow in the TML registers and partly structures the sidereal, HVAC, social, (and maybe someday the computational) patterns in the room, then how can we make that legible? There are even challenging mathematical, mechatronic problems to solve. Another challenge: how can we musically compose event structures that accommodate not only our sound and video media but also the patterns of growth and decay of the living plants in their response to the sun and the patterns of people working in the room? Defining "accommodate" and "event structure" is part of the question.
Now, even if PLSS is an exercise, to make something flourish in the TML could be in fact a genuine contribution worth telling or showing other people. So, we should aspire to make and learn something that can generate as well as consume portable knowledge. Can we make something that treats plants as first class entities, in as sophisticated ways as the computational media that we already know how to make? What does it mean to not treat plants as decoration or use-matter or a source of allegory for designers and architects? (Biomimetics merely echoes form. Remedios Terrarium 2008 was a lovely set of allegories, but allegory nonetheless, except for the plants and materials that Flower tended before during and after the event.) Are there techniques of working with botanical materials -- plant matter, water, earth -- sharply different and distant from the logicist techniques of computational media, that can teach us something about working with non-botanical materials -- video, sound, light, textiles, films, ... legal codes etc. -- as well? How can we work and live in EV7.725 with patterns of growth and decay that are quite different in scale and kind than the sinusoidal cycles of media designed as if they are immortal?
PS. It takes some courage to stare at a problem long after it's become uncomfortably difficult. Ditto for an approach to a problem. That's why I point to The Three Ecologies, when it would be more comfortable to move on to fresh ad-copy. There are other writings and art worth studying too. Please suggest more, and post them to http://plss.posterous.com/ so we can discuss them and draw from them.