Plants & Machines


Photo by Katherine Cuningham, at the KABK preview exam, Hoop Gallery, Den Haag / NL 2011.

Exhibition Taming Technology, Florence (IT) 2011.

Jurema Action Plant is an interactive bio-machine. It consists in a customized machine which interfaces a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica).

Jurema Action Plant aims to empower plants by enabling them to use similar technologies as humans use. It is also explores new ways of communication and co-relation between humans, living organism and a machine. Much like humans, animals and machines, the plants have an electrical signal traveling inside them, but they do not have nerves like humans and animals; nor wires and cables like machines. This electrical signal travels inside the cells of the plant. Inspired by this phenomenon, I collaborated with professor Bert van Duijn from the Biology University and the Hortus Botanicus, both from Leiden, on a research into the Action Potential of this plant. At V2_ , we settled upon a solution in which a signal amplifier reads the differences in the electromagnetic field around the plant to determine when it is being touched. These electromagnetic variations trigger movement of the robotic structure, on which the plant is situated, by means of a custom-made circuit board. The thresholds for response are set in such a way that only touching the plant makes it move away from the person touching it.

“Their movement however generally remains invisible to us, because their muscle and nerve-like systems operate at a very slow timescale and their rooting in soil confines their motion to the movement of branches and leaves. These restrictions give plants an enormous disadvantage compared to their main aggressors: animals and humans, in many instances resulting in a loss of biodiversity and even extinction.” (Michel van Dartel, curator V2)

To measure the Action Potential from the plant some electrodes are placed in its branches. When the leaves and branches of the plant are touched this signal changes. This electrical signal travels in the plant and the Action Potential can be measured in any part of the plant, not necessarily where the electrodes are placed. If the plants can fell the touch and this signal travels inside the plant and be can be measured in any part, does it means that plants have memory, consciousness?

Presentation at V2_ Test Lab – ISEA RHUR 2010 – photo by David Jonas-V2_

Oritur projects | Jurema Action Plant from Ivan Henriques on Vimeo.

Jurema Action Plant Firenze 2011 from Ivan Henriques on Vimeo.

Imagine if we could communicate with plants and work together. Is it possible to reshape and redefine our tools to be coherent with the environment? Would we keep on destroying the few existent plants/animals and forests?



As the invitation from CBK Drenthe, Assen/NL, for the exhibition ‘Nature Now‘ the work titled ‘Prototype for a New BioMachine’ is developed. This prototype is the continuation of JAP and beginning of a further research about living organisms connected to machines. Some improvements have been done concerned to interactivity, as it was used another plant, with scientific name Homalomena. This plant has bigger leafs, which increased the interface size. And the improvements are also concerned to stability, redesigning the electronic board which will be able to provide enough flexibility for future developments.

How can we create autopoietic (*) machines that maintain an organized autonomous robotic structure assembling living organisms and machines? Can we re-create a world which is more coherent with all the specimens?

The final goal of this research is to assemble, even more, wet and dry machines to live together, creating a symbiotic relationship. The idea is to work in nano scale – this also happens with JAP and the PNBM as the data which is collected from the plant and processed via the electronic board, are from the flows of electrons. To further research into nano scale will be possible to extend and amplify energy from living organisms to develop an
autonomous Symbiotic Machine.

(*) The concept Autopoietic was created by H. Maturana & F. Varela




From a macro to a micro landscape. The plants have a different time comparing to ours and our relation with the nature goes in many different ways.

I am doing a research in ‘green spaces’ in Holland with a specific interest in artificial landscapes as Botanical Gardens, green houses and plants, within the nature in cultural aspects, their own behavior and how the nature is interfered by man. The botanic systematization, the dissemination of different species all over the world and dialogs between natural and artificial processes are also subjects in my field of research.

Video documentation: performance Bird Composition for Zuidpark , winter 2010 (The Hague/NL).

This research of the landscape is a continuation with GEMA project that I have been developing in Rio, since 2007. This research involves natural and urban environment, the change of the landscape through the time due to the cities expansions. How we can have a better living with our environment instead of killing it using the technology we have nowadays? The next step for nature is engineering, creating a self controlled environment and recycle the resources. I am researching also about plants and politics into a bio-scientific sphere. The Mata Atlantica forest was destroyed by the uncontrolled growth of the cities and now Amazonia is also in danger. There are several multi-national companies in Amazonia: a cycle of destruction that starts killing the trees of the forest for agronomy, cattle raising, scientific researches, trafficking of plants, and so on. It is estimated that 15% of the Amazon has been deforested.

There is also a discussion about the internationalization of Amazonia forest which is a political aspect. A dispute of territory is going on and how an artistic practice can make a thought about this relevant issue.

“…better means of preserving, transporting, displaying, and  documenting specimens; …” PRATT, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes – Travel Writing and Transculturalization, p.28/29

The research about resources of the nature started with professor Bert van Duijn, from the Biology University in Leiden for a couple of months in how we can measure the action potential of the plants.

Graphic of potential difference from the Venus Flytrap hair

One of the plants that we are measuring the action potential is the Venus Flytrap. The matter that intrigues me most is the speed of its action: with this carnivorous plant we are able to see its movement in real time, reacting to insects that triggers the movement of its leaf.

The Venus Flytrap is one of a very small group of plants capable of rapid movement, such as Mimosa, the Telegraph plantSundews and Bladderworts. Its trapping structure is formed by the terminal portion of each of the plant’s leaves and is triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap closes if a different hair is contacted within twenty seconds of the first strike.

Diagram of the inner surface of  the Venus Flytrap showing some of the sequence events leading to the trap closing: [1] a trigger hairs bent over; [2] the touch sensation is translated into electrical code, known as a receptor potential, which is confined to just the sensor cells inside the trigger hair; [3] a sufficiently large receptor potential fires a fast-moving electrical wave, known as action potential, which spreads across the trap lobes, [4] the trap doesn’t move, but somehow remembers being touched; [5] another hair (or the same as before) is bent over; [6] a second receptor potential is fired into the sensor cells; [7] a second action potential is fired across the trap; [8] if the second action potential comes roughly within 35 seconds of the first one, the trap is sprung shut. The cell on the outer epidermis expand rapidly, folding the trap lobes over. If no prey is caught, the trap reopens about 12 hours later. But if an animal is trapped, the trap slowly tightens around its prey, secretes digestive juices, and absorbs the remains of the animal over about 1-2 weeks.

Another plant that I am studying to develop a work is the Mimosa Pudica (Sensitive Plant). Its a plant that developed a kind of camouflage/protection. When they suffer any change in their surrounding the ActionPotential changes.

Some points raised while doing the project:

>> machines and plants

>> living machine design

>> engineering ecology

>> the biological equity determine design

>> design be coevolutionary with the natural world

>> design be sustainable through the integration of living systems

>> building and design help in healing the planet

>> working as a concert

>> biotics relationships

>> reshape and redefine our tools and technology

I was invited to realized this project at V2 – Institute for the Unstable Media, in the summer residency 2010, to develop this work with Bert van Duijn, Hortus Botanicus from Leiden and V2 team.

My position is to investigate this phenomena and create an art piece; in van Duijn’s laboratory, to develop scientific researches for our future.

Measuring the action potential at Leiden Biology University laboratory with Bert van Duijn:

Once we could get data from the plant, I did my first try-out transforming these numbers into sound:

*drawings from the book The Action Plant, SIMONS, Paul.

**Thanks to: Takuto Fukuda, Matteo Marangoni, Bert van Duijn, Michael van Hoogenhuyze, Kasper van der Horst, Taco Stolk, Khim Lalai, Lex van den Broek, Nenad Popov, Melissa Coleman, Lars Kynde, Edwin van der Heide, Pablo Sanz, Aline Couri, V2_team, Hortus Botanicus Leiden.


Relandscaping#1 from Ivan Henriques on Vimeo.

Relandscaping #1 is a video art done during my MA in ArtScience at Interfaculty in The Netherlands, The Hague. The sequence register the course between The Hague to Amsterdam. Using MAX MSP software a video patch is generated from the same source in real time and recorded. The video is filmed through the window of a train, processed, recorded and reproduced four times simultaneously. Four different times of the same image in one screen. The title refers to a series of works which I am doing that are connected with the concepts of Landscape and Time.

This video is also a development of an installation that I did before called [in] Variáveis. All the images are constructed from the same space it is exhibited. In [in] Variáveis, there were two projections: one was in 15 seconds of delay of the real time and the other was filming the fist one, in real time. What you experience in the installation is that you could see yourself arriving at the gallery already being there, and all the movements you were doing afterwards. And also be inserted two times while the visitors are being filmed again; your 15 seconds of past and your real time. How can I relate the real time image in a more complex system, including Time and Landscape as the main subject?

In Relandscaping #1 I decided to make this relations of different times of images but in a moving situation (a parallel with the Estúdio Móvel Experimental, where the car is also in movement), filming and processing the landscape from Holland. And also relate the time with two more images. Why this specific landscape? Some moments of this video the four images are exactly the same. As most of the landscape from the Netherlands is flat, in some moments of the video, you can see a composition from these images without changing the horizon line.

“All of us live in an artificial landscape generated by the crisscrossing of endless number of artifacts each of which has been the result of a plan, a decision, a discussion about a certain order of the world.” Latour, BRUNO

There is a saying about the Netherlands “God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.” In fact, a large part of Holland was created by the sand, from the many rivers that flow through it. Notable Dutch rivers are the Rhine, the Maas, the IJssel and the Scelt. Due to Dutch intervention, were created many polder which have made many lakes and parts of the sea dry. And also the etymology landschap comes from Dutch [land-schap (“-ship”)].

2010 | 10 pictures 148 × 210mmRelandscaping #2 | 10 photographies, 148 × 210 mm each | 2010, The Netherlands

Relandscaping #2 is a series of pictures from the same sand hill of a construction. Only my position was changed.

The cultural landscapes are in continuous change each time in a more artificial way to contemplate the evolutions of  our society, political, economical and ecological issues, that are in constant disputes of power and categorization for many years. From Rio de Janeiro to Den Haag, Tokyo to Dubai, and so far.

I have been working with concepts of space and time perception emphasizing real time phenomenon as in my past works, as SUPERPOSITION series (2006/07), [in] Variáveis (2008), Estúdio Móvel Experimental – E.M.E., 2009.

photo by Silvia Leal | 2009

Estúdio Móvel Experimental | photo by Silvia Leal | 2009, RJ – Brasil

EME is a mobile residency program which makes part of a research developed with G.E.M.A., 2007, which is an interdisciplinary interface to explore the urban and natural landscape of Rio de Janeiro and its biodiversity with the support of national and international research partners of arts, sciences and technology, inviting local and non-local artists/institutions to realize site-specific public art interventions and to work together around Rio State.

Rio de Janeiro State is in a continuous process of landscaping: the building of luxury condominiums and the growth of favelas that have been developed since colonization and intensified after the slavery abolition in the 19th century. In Rio State exists a serious environmental decline (mainly in Guanabara Bay) such as landfills, siltation, destruction of mangroves, industrial pollution and environmental accidents. Is estimated that, by the Portuguese arrival in Brazil in 1500, Mata Atlântica, Atlântica forest, covered 98% of Rio de Janeiro territory. With the uncontrolled growth of the city, the forest covers now less than 17% of the State.

Most of the landscapes in The Netherlands are also in a constant change.  Over the centuries, the Dutch coastline has changed considerably as a result of anthropogenic intervention and natural disasters. Looking through the window of trains allover the country, you can see fields of  urban landscapes and natural landscape. How our relation with landscapes change our perception of time and space?

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