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 final installation of the $80,000 Mordant Family VR Commission series.
Set within an abstract representation of Tully’s childhood backyard, Epiphytes It consists of an environment featuring a diffuse, shifting, magenta palette. Reliance on sight is de-escalated in favor of sound and scent to influence the user’s bodily responses within the virtual space. The work honors 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 ongoing climate crisis, Epiphytes Uses implied forms of nature such as shadows from an unseen canopy and mobile, amorphous shapes to elicit feelings of solastalgia – emotional distress over a loss of natural environments. Simultaneously the work encourages a more symbiotic and interconnected way of being in the world, drawing on the premise of the artwork’s botanical namesake: the epiphyte – an organism that feeds on the air, water and natural refuses of its environment to give back to its ecosystem.
Epiphytes Features interviews with evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, acoustic archaeologist Umashankar Manthravadi and echolocation teacher/blind researcher and activist Thomas Tajo. Arranging these sonic elements within the VR environment, Tully invokes curiosity and exploration by the user, while generating a conversational dialogue between these three diverse theorists.
Field recordings of local birds and other ecological sounds complement the recorded conversations of the theorists, along with sounds representing water and nutrients flowing through trees, suggesting a natural environment that is either fabricated or fading. The audio is spatially controlled, 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’ve had the opportunity to use VR to imagine the perception of plants and explore multi-sensory ways of being in the world. Through de-centring the human experience, I hope the project encourages audiences to reflect on more caring and interconnected relationships that we can have with each other and our ecosystems.”