Writing, reading, and making art in collaboration with the “model” bioscienceplant, Arabidopsis thaliana

Jane Prophet, Professor, Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design

Collaborators: John Schiefelbein, Professor, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Develop a prototype or Pilot Study for a new large-scale art installation using laser cut paper and video projection mapping in collaboration with the plant, Arabidopsis thaliana (Thalecress), a weed described as the “lab rat among plants.” The project combines expertise, data and methods from art, computer science and bioscience. The PI will work with graduate students from Stamps and Bioscience to create a pilot study, or smaller scale version, of what will eventually be a room-sized installation of plant forms cut from paper, lit using video projection from 5 projectors. The installation will include living plants and accompanying exhibition texts.

The work is intended for exhibition at local (Detroit) and international Science Galleries using art to ignite discussion about key science topics and to promote STEM learning through STEAM. The applicant has regularly shown on the international science gallery circuit and it is therefore highly likely that the development of the Pilot Study will be disseminated through exhibition as well as via academic papers and conference presentations at events such as College Arts Association, the Society for Literature Science and the Arts, and 4S where the applicant is a regular panel chair and speaker.

Project Update

Presented as a work-in-progress project at the College Arts Association conference in February.

Presentation Title: Art and Ecological Imperialism: vegetal writing with Thale cress and the Hong Kong Orchid Tree


It has been argued that the European settler colonization of other regions succeeded in part because their introduction of plants changed regional ecologies, a form of ecological imperialism. In this presentation, the artist takes an intersectional approach to better understand the botanical colonization of plants at the heart of two of her artworks. The artworks extend Patricia Viera’s idea of vegetal writing with plants, her ‘phytography,’ to computer coding with plants. She accounts for her current cut paper installation made in collaboration with arabidopsis thaliana (Thale cress), a weed described as the “lab rat among plants.” Thale cress, the first plant to have its complete genome sequenced, has become a so-called genetic “model” organism used extensively in plant biology experiments. However, there is evidence that ∼10,000 years ago, Thale cress, entangled with humans, migrated from Asia, from east to west, at a rate of westward spread of ∼0.9 km/year, precipitated by the spread of agriculture into Europe.

arabidopsis thaliana (Thale cress)
arabidopsis thaliana (Thale cress)