Living Machines


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. For example, we can approach it in different angles, from its history, colour, inter-relations with its surroundings, taste, form, etc. In one of the plant-communication angle, scientist Monica Gagliano (Research Associate Professor in Evolutionary Ecology, & Senior Research Fellow at the Biological Intelligence (BI) Lab, University of Sydney) through scientific methods is establishing a communication with plants (which means the plant has a sort of ‘intelligence’). At the same time the plants are the main food source that we humans and other specimens have, and also becomes a ‘material’ explored further in the bio-design industry.


Cubos, 2003

10 x 10 x 10 cm

moss, charcoal, wood

Since living in Rio other life forms have always called my attention. Specially plants, that has so interesting forms and textures. During my BA in sculpture at UFRJ I started to look at nature as a transformative  element, which has its own timing, behaviour and different interrelations amongst other living organisms and the environment/landscape where it is.  In parallel to the BA I participated in the This research of the landscape is a continuation with the collective group GEMA (the experimental autonomous multidisciplinary research group focused in the natural and urban environment, the change of the landscape through the time due to human activities) a research into I came to the Netherlands in 2009 I started a research in green spaces in Holland with a specific interest in plants and their behaviour. Very different from the tropical forest that I grew up with, I could find simulacrums of non-human landscapes within the artificiality  found in many botanical gardens, automated green houses and farms. I’ve deepened  the research with plants in a broader aspect: nature x culture, nature = culture, their interrelations with another living organisms and their metabolism.

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



Some questions came across the research, concerned about unbalanced evolutionary vectors of nature and technology and the dependency of technological advancement to use processed organic matter, which leads to a change in the environment and decay of biodiversity. How we can have a better living with our environment instead of killing it using the technology we have nowadays? A very possible step for nature is engineering, creating a self controlled environment and recycle the resources.


Plants and Politics.

The Mata Atlantica forest was destroyed by the uncontrolled growth of the cities and for dacades 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 organic resources started with professor Bert van Duijn, from the Biology University in Leiden in 2010, while measuring plant’s action potential .

Measuring action potential of the carnivorous plant.

Below the 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.

Measuring action potential of the carnivorous plant.

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.


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: