Empathy Ecologies

show overview
Performance & Installation
Frascati Theatres Amsterdam ComeTogether#5
SoundScape: Gorkem Arikan. Sponsored by EagleScience.com and Sendot.nl (Photosynthesis and CO2 Mesurements). Intern: Lois Simon. Photography: Pieter Kers. Mondriaanfonds.


Can we create new connections between humans, data and nature?
Empathy Ecologies is a critical and hopeful narrative about our future biospheres.

Empathy Ecologies is an interactive performance installation and hopeful narrative for future empathetic human-plant-technology connections. Plants are known to respond to human bodies, sound, touch and behaviour. The installation, a baroque, flowery aerial root plants mini-forest, invites participants to perform a new embodied ‘empathy-practice’ with plants. In the performance, brain-to-brain interaction and plant CO2/photosynthesis biofeedback, from shared intimate physical connections of kissing, caressing and embracing, is translated to a shared algorithm and data-sonification. Plants and humans together co-create and explore a yet unknown, unique, immersive soundscape, a planetary Empathy Symphony.

Circular, Empathic Ecologies
Today, sustainable eco-systems are dominantly explored through doing better FOR NATURE. We solve problems: we improve agro-culture, save forests, fly less. Human activity is central, opposite to nature, in an Anthropocene view. From a radically different approach, Empathy Ecologies explores an empathic global system WITH NATURE. It creates an immersive biofeedback synthesis between humans and non-humans, plants, algorithms and brain technologies, as co-actors, in an emergent assemblage (Donna Haraway 2016, Latour 1990).

Can we imagine empathetic connections between humans, plants and technology - in a shared neurofeedback loop? Plants memorize and respond to human bodies and their (caring or aggressive) behaviour; while sound and touch affect their immune systems and growth (Hassanien 2014; Mishra and Bay 2019). Based on these new findings, this artwork proposes speculative connections between biometric feedback of plant sensitivity, and human empathic behaviour of kissing and caressing, co-creating a musical soundscape. Together, human and plants explore a new perspective on planetary, yet unpredictable ecologies of empathy.

The installation’s theatrical architecture consists of various, nomadic aerial root plants hanging from the ceiling. Visually, the plant’s baroque roots, leaves and flowers create a transparent romantic ‘mini-forest’. The plants hang close together, in a circle. Inside the circle, an intimate space invites a maximum of four participants to enter. Visible to spectators around, the semi-transparent forest seems to embrace the participants inside.

During the performance, participants wear EEG headsets (Multi Brain Interface (BCI)) while kissing, caressing and embracing. Their brain activity is recorded, while simultaneously, biofeedback data of plants (CO2, oxygen) is measured. Real-time, both human and plant bio-feedback are transferred into a music score, based on an algorithm; translated to a shared data-visualization and soundscape. The co-created soundscape affects a shared atmosphere in space.

Empathy Ecologies is part of the artists series 'Artistic Social Labs', inviting the audience as 'co-researchers'. From an art-science perspective, the brain and plant biofeedback provoke awareness on experience, of living with data as part of our future embodied connections.

Practical: The human-plant-technology eco-system of EEG measuring kissing and caressing is hosted by the artists. 4 participants at the time wear EEG headsets, changing approximately every 15 minutes.