Špela Petrič (SI) Institute for Inconspicuous Languages: Reading Lips

Installation , 2019

The journal Science recently published an article in which scientists describe the first meaningful exchange between a ficus tree and a human, which could, in a broader sense, be described as a conversation. The lucidly conceived experiment demanded exceptional patience and total dedication from both sides – during an 18-year experiment (2021-39) the ficus tree and the human had to negotiate a common semiotic code.

Similar to other plants, ficus trees (Ficus benjamina) monitor the amount of water they take up through their roots by opening and closing the stomata that are found on their leaves. Each leaf has thousands of “tiny mouths'” (stomata). The linguist and polyglot Mi Yu asked herself whether she could read stomata in a similar way as the deaf can read lips and thus establish a basic sign set of communication signs with the young ficus. By implementing Pavlov conditioning, Mi Yu could teach the ficus basic signs for “more”, “less” and “stop” over a course of four years. The ficus would open its mouths and she would respond with a code of light. If the plant threw off all the leaves as a result of a quick change, as ficus trees often do, the new leaves remembered the agreed upon signs. Over the next ten years they perfected the code light and lips to the extent where the first scientifically recorded conversation between a plant and a human took place.

Institute for Inconspicuous Languages: Reading Lips is an attempt to repeat this experiment.

Programming and sensor integration: Bart Peeters

Programming of the computer vision: Klara Nosan, Tim Oblak

Expert advice: Luka Šajn, Žiga Emeršič, Miha Turšič

Technical execution: Scenart, d.o.o.

Special thanks: Faculty of Computer and Information Science at the University of Ljubljana and Waag, NL

The project is a part of 'European ARTificial Intelligence Lab'. Co-funded by: Creative Europe programme of the European Union, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and Department of Culture of the Municipality of Ljubljana.

Špela Petrič (SI)

Špela Petrič is a Slovenian new media artist and former scientific researcher currently based between Ljubljana, SI and Amsterdam, NL. Her practice is a multi-species endeavor, a composite of natural sciences, wet media and performance. She envisions artistic experiments that enact strange relationalities to reveal the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of our technological societies and challenge the scope of the adjacent possible. Much of her recent work has focused on plant life. Her work has been shown at many festivals, exhibitions and educational events (La Fabrique du Vivant at Centre Pompidou (FR), Abandon Normal Devices (UK), Nam June Paik Art Center (KR), Bozar (BE)). She is the recipient of several awards including the White Aphroid for outstanding artistic achievement, the Bioart and Design Award and an Award of Distinction at Prix Ars Electronica.