One Last Perfect Day

Un último día perfecto
Created between 2019 and 2021 and exhibited in the MAMM (Medellin Modern Art Museum) under the curatorship and production of Jorge Barco. September 2021-March 2022, Medellín, Colombia
Duration of the video exhibited in loop: 09m57s
Duration of the sound installation projected in loop: 34m35s
Consists of a small beet crop of 12 plants, an artificial lighting system, a multichannel installation, a transducer device connected to an open microphone, and a video  

One Last Perfect Day is an installation based on the analysis of acoustic reception and vibration by plants. Here, a beet crop grows using artificial light sound as vibrating stimulation. This piece invites us to consider how human beings relate to the universe through plants.

In this installation, horticulture is presented as a device of joy, pleasure, resistance, and autonomy in the face of an uncertain future. Here, the violet light of the lamps and a video of the sun, the sine waves, the foley sounds and the human voice, convert the gallery into a space of nourishment, contemplation and deep listening. This installation presents a space of sensorial subjectivity where the reception of sound and light of plants and humans converge. 

The sounds

The acoustic stimulation for the beets is produced by a multichannel piece and by a transducer connected to a microphone open to the public. Here, visitors are invited to stimulate the growth of the plants through the vibration of their voices. 

The sounds of the composition, consist of four sources based on scientific theories.

1) According to the research by scientist Dan Carlson, plants show special sensitivity to sine waves, particularly those with frequencies above 3000 Hertz (Hz), which can accelerate growth, increase crop volume, stimulate leaf and flower development, improve disease resistance and increase nutrient uptake, among other things. These frequencies open the stomata or pores of the epidermis of stems and leaves, allowing for better absorption of nitrogen, water, and other essential substances.

2) Plants have a positive response to the sounds that insects made when they chew. Furthermore, many insect species use vegetables to amplify and transduce their sounds which are often imperceptible because of their low frequencies (100 Hz and 250 Hz, are ). To recreate these insect sounds, I worked with cooking sounds of different beet preparations that I engage with as Foley. 

3) Vegetables produce vibrations ranging between 20 Hz and 100 Hz when they are thirsty as a consequence of a process known as cavitation where air bubbles form and implode in the xylem tubes.

The video and the lamps

The two lamps project a combination of frequencies that create a violet light that feeds the plants with artificial light. This colour has a soothing effect on humans creating a space where the well-being of vegetables and the spectators can converge. For the video, I processed a speeded-up NASA documentation of the sun using a violet filter. The video presents the sun rotating for 18 months. The idea of the video originates when the Beijing mayoralty projected an image of the sun on giant screens placed in public spaces. Because of the high levels of contamination, in the streets, the sun could not be seen. The video refers to the inhospitable light conditions of the room creating sensorial correspondences with the lamps. The circularity of the rotation of the sun in the video creates a connection with the sine tones of the sound composition. The explosions of the solar flares, produce interesting equivalences with the designed sounds of insects chewing. 

 The title One Last Perfect Day is a quote from Carl Sagan about a 

“Some 5 billion years from now, there will be a last perfect day on Earth… then the sun will begin to die, life will be extinguished, the oceans will boil and evaporate away.” 

The beets

The selection of beetroot as artistic material in this piece surges after my interest in its unique taste, colour and shape, and after its great nutritional and medicinal value. 

In my research, I learned that most beets varieties are relatively easy to grow indoors if they receive sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. Additionally, they require to be planted in well-drained soil, ideally fertilized with phosphorus and potassium. Watering is also a key aspect, considering that beets are thirsty vegetables, particularly in warm temperatures. Proper drainage is also vital as a consequence of their lengthy roots. 

Jeanne McHale is a PhD in physical chemistry who works with betanin to develop sustainable solar energy systems. Betanin is the component that gives them their unique colour. McHale aims to replace the toxic photovoltaic cells which make current systems unsustainable. The research of McHale eventually could alleviate the energy crisis that is a leading cause of the current climate crisis. 

Betanin stimulates the blood flow to the brain improving cognitive functions, as is suggested by chemistry researchers Li-June Ming and DM Jonathan Burdette. Ming studies the composition of betanin to slow down the speed at which Alzheimer attacks the brain. This disease occurs when the energy reserve accumulated in the brain decreases, and the brain can no longer counteract the detrimental effects of entropy. Considering the ongoing Alzheimer epidemic, the research of Ming could benefit millions and save thousands of lives, considering the most recent public health statistics reveal.

REVIEWS

Estéban Gutierrez for Art Nexus

La Sala de experimentación sonora (Lab3) es un espacio del MAMM diseñado para la exhibición y vivencia del arte sonoro, y de proyectos de creación que usan el sonido como material artístico principal. Desde 2015, ha acogido proyectos artísticos en áreas creativas como el paisaje sonoro, el microsonido, la música electrónica, la ecología acústica o el bioarte. Entrelazando estos campos de acción, el artista bogotano David Vélez (1973) presenta su exposición “Un último día perfecto”, desplegando un cultivo vegetal dentro de la estancia, que se desarrolla dentro de este hábitat artificial estimulado por los componentes sonoros y lumínicos de la instalación, así como por la participación activa y afectiva del público. En esta propuesta convergen la permacultura, el arte sonoro y la especulación científica como instrumento poético, proyectando caminos posibles para generar vínculos simbióticos entre el hombre y su entorno natural. Por ello, el proyecto se articula dentro de un ciclo de exposiciones, cuyo hilo conductor es la relación de los humanos con la naturaleza, revisada desde diferentes enfoques. 

Esta instalación configura un espacio de contemplación, escucha y conocimiento, y está compuesta por cuatro elementos principales. Como punto de partida, el proyecto usa la idea, planteada por el astrofísico Carl Sagan, del surgimiento de un “último día perfecto” con la llegada del fin del mundo  en cinco mil millones de años en el futuro. Metáfora usada para señalar el conflicto existente entre la cultura humana y su medio ambiente natural. Así, el elemento central de la obra y del espacio es una huerta constituida por seis canastas plásticas dispuestas sobre una mesa-contenedor que las eleva aproximadamente a un metro de altura. Allí crece, durante el tiempo de la exposición, un cultivo de remolachas que actúan como actores simbólicos para posibles prácticas y relaciones simbióticas, entre el hombre y la naturaleza, que estimulen una cultura ecológicamente sostenible. La remolacha ha sido seleccionada por Vélez como símbolo de esta potencial comunión, por ser una planta con un alto valor nutricional, utilizada hoy en investigaciones de diferente índole y áreas de estudio como la neurociencia o la ingeniería solar. Por ello, esta planta representa para el proyecto el potencial de la permacultura y la conciencia ecológica como catalizadores de cambios en nuestra relación con el planeta. 

En segundo lugar, sobre el cultivo, e iluminándolo cenitalmente, se encuentra una lámpara que estimula el desarrollo de las plantas de la sala, en ciclos de luz y oscuridad de doce horas. Ha sido mediante una “receta lumínica” que mezcla bombillos led de diferentes colores e intensidades, para simular la luz solar de acuerdo a las necesidades de las remolachas. El tercer elemento de la instalación es una pantalla, en la pared lateral, que presenta un video en bucle del Sol, rotando sobre su eje e irradiando su energía en el espacio. La esfera roja, que ocupa la parte derecha de la pantalla, se articula con la escarlata y los tonos purpúreos y rojizos de las plantas, para generar un ambiente cálido y espectral en el espacio expositivo. 

Por último, la obra se completa con su componente sonoro, que tiene la doble función de fortalecer el ecosistema que sustenta a las plantas . abrir un vaso comunicante entre el público y estos seres vivos. Para ello, Vélez despliega la atmósfera sonora mediante dos sistemas con funciones específicas. Por un lado, un conjunto de amplificadores, de ocho canales que circundan el cultivo en los límites del salón reproduciendo una pieza compuesta de ondas sinusoidales y otros elementos acústicos. Por otro lado, frente al sembrado se encuentra un micrófono, abierto a la participación del público y conectado a un transductor dispuesto directamente sobre los contenedores del huerto, en contacto con la tierra y las raíces de las plantas. La suma de estos dos sistemas de audio invita, de forma especulativa, a generar relaciones emocionales y sensibles entre todos los miembros del ecosistema. Mientras que la composición musical ha sido creada para acelerar el crecimiento de los vegetales y mejorar sus sistemas biológicos, la voz humana, generada durante la participación del público, conecta al proyecto con prácticas culturales tradicionales que consideran saludable hablarles a las plantas. Cabe señalar que diversas investigaciones de interés para Vélez indican una especial sensibilidad de estos seres vivos por los estímulos sonoros y vibratorios. El conjunto de la instalación resulta acogedor e hipnótico. La luz rojiza desvaneciéndose paulatinamente, y dejando en penumbra la periferia del salón rectangular, produce un efecto visual sobre el cultivo, que parece germinar extrañas plantas iridiscentes. Sumado a ello, el incesante zumbido de las ondas sinusoidales resulta molesto al principio, y tranquilizante a medida que el cuerpo se adapta a este entorno. Por su parte, la experiencia de hablar a las betarragas a través del micrófono resulta extraña a nivel auditivo, ya que la fuente de amplificación no es fácilmente identificable, lo que produce la sensación de oír la propia voz dentro de la cabeza. En otras palabras, el sonido no parece expandirse en el espacio, sino converger en el propio hablante, que, en consecuencia, escucha lo que las plantas sienten. Para finalizar, es de resaltar que una observación detallada de la obra permite encontrar todo un ecosistema natural, colonias de insectos diminutos, mariposas o gusanos, que se suma al dominio artificial constituido por la infraestructura técnica, el personal del museo y los propios visitantes. Este encuentro resalta el sistema problemático circunscrito por Vélez e invita a reflexionar sobre nuestras prácticas culturales, formas de consumo y el futuro cercano. Como colofón de la exposición, las remolachas serán cosechadas y consumidas por el equipo MAMM, cerrando el ciclo inherente al cultivo de hortalizas. 

(English)

The Sound Experimentation Room (Lab3) is a MAMM space designed for the exhibition and experience of sound art, and creative projects that use sound as the main artistic material. Since 2015, it has hosted artistic projects in creative areas such as soundscape, microsound, electronic music, acoustic ecology or bio art. Intertwining these fields of action, the Bogotá artist David Vélez (1973) presents his exhibition “A Perfect Last Day”, displaying a plant crop inside the ranch, which develops within this artificial habitat stimulated by the sound and light components of the installation, as well as the active and affectionate participation of the public. In this proposal, permaculture, sound art and scientific speculation converge as a poetic instrument, projecting possible ways to generate symbiotic links between man and his natural environment. For this reason, the project is articulated within a cycle of exhibitions, whose common thread is the relationship between humans and nature, reviewed from different perspectives.

This installation configures a space for contemplation, listening and knowledge, and is made up of four main elements. As a starting point, the project uses the idea, put forward by astrophysicist Carl Sagan, of the emergence of a “last perfect day” with the arrival of the end of the world five billion years in the future. The metaphor is used to point out the conflict between human culture and its natural environment. Thus, the central element of the work and the space is a garden made up of six plastic baskets arranged on a table container that raises them approximately one meter high. There grows, during the time of the exhibition, a crop of beets that act as symbolic actors for possible practices and symbiotic relationships, between man and nature, that stimulate an ecologically sustainable culture. Beetroot has been selected by Vélez as a symbol of this potential communion, as it is a plant with high nutritional value, used today in different kinds of research and study areas such as neuroscience or solar engineering. For this reason, this plant represents the potency of permaculture and ecological awareness as catalysts for changes in our relationship with the planet.

Secondly, on the crop, and illuminating it from above, there is a lamp that stimulates the development of the plants in the room, in twelve-hour light and dark cycles. It has been through a “light recipe” that mixes LED bulbs of different colours and intensities, to simulate sunlight according to the needs of the beets. The third element of the installation is a screen, on the side wall, that presents a looping video of the Sun, rotating on its axis and radiating its energy into space. The red sphere, which occupies the right part of the screen, articulates with the scarlet and the purple and reddish tones of the plants, to generate a warm and spectral atmosphere in the exhibition space.

Finally, the work is completed with its sound component, which has the double function of strengthening the ecosystem that sustains the plants. open a communicating vessel between the public and these living beings. To do this, Vélez deploys the sound atmosphere through two systems with specific functions. On the one hand, a set of amplifiers, with eight channels that surround the crop at the limits of the room, reproducing a piece composed of sinusoidal waves and other acoustic elements. On the other hand, in front of the field, there is a microphone, open to public participation and connected to a transducer arranged directly on the garden containers, in contact with the soil and the roots of the plants. The sum of these two audio systems invites, in a speculative way, to generate affectionate and sensitive relationships between all the members of the ecosystem. While the musical composition has been created to accelerate the growth of plants and improve their biological systems, the human voice, generated during audience participation, connects the project with traditional cultural practices that consider it healthy to talk to plants. It should be noted that various investigations of interest to Vélez indicate a special sensitivity of these living beings to sound and vibration stimuli. The installation as a whole is welcoming and hypnotic. The reddish light fading gradually, and leaving the periphery of the rectangular room in shadow, produces a visual effect on the crop, which seems to germinate strange iridescent plants. Added to this, the incessant hum of the sine waves is annoying at first, and calming as the body adjusts to this environment. For its part, the experience of speaking to beetroots through the microphone is strange at an auditory level, since the amplification source is not easily identifiable, which produces the sensation of hearing one’s voice inside the head. In other words, the sound does not seem to spread out in space but converges on the speaker himself, who consequently listens to what the plants feel. Finally, it is noteworthy that detailed observation of the work allows us to find a whole natural ecosystem, colonies of tiny insects, butterflies or worms, which is added to the artificial domain made up of the technical infrastructure, the museum staff and the visitors themselves. This meeting highlights the problematic system circumscribed by Vélez and invites us to reflect on our cultural practices, forms of consumption and the near future. As the culmination of the exhibition, the beets will be harvested and consumed by the MAMM team, closing the cycle inherent to the cultivation of vegetables.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s