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Laura U. Marks

Vegetable Locomotion: a Deleuzian Ethics/Aesthetics of Traveling Plants

Might humans learn from our evolutionary heritage by observing the travels of plants? I will ask this in light of the long history of traveling plants in art. Muybridge analyzed animal locomotion, but vegetable locomotion remains relatively little studied, as plants are commonly considered not to locomote. This fixity promotes in plants a discerning receptivity and a wily opportunism, both of which are themes in Bergson that inspired some of Deleuze’s work. Yet the movement of plants is also a significant theme on the underside of Deleuze and Guattari’s writings: not only the rhizome but also the foliated scroll analyzed by Riegl. “It’s just a weed,” Deleuze remarked of the acanthus; but in art and architecture the vinelike form becomes a transformative force as it twines from culture to culture. Further, we humans understand other creatures and plants because we have more in common with them than we differ from them; Deleuze and Guattari take up this argument from Bergson in Creative Evolution. But usually humans see, and make, plants in terms of our immediate needs. Much of plant migration is the reactive result of human agriculture, climate change, and genetic engineering. How might we expose ourselves to plant ways openly and creatively? I will turn to contemporary art in which plants are a living presence, as in the dancing trees and unpredictable mold farms of Gordon Matta-Clark, for examples of inspiring vegetable locomotion.

About the keynote speaker

Laura U. Marks is the Dena Wosk University Professor of Art and Culture Studies at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Duke University Press, 2000), Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media (Minnesota University Press, 2002), and many essays. Her new book Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT Press, 2010) brings Islamic and Deleuzian philosophy into contact. She has curated programs of experimental media for venues around the world. Her current research interests are the media arts of the Arab and Muslim world, intercultural perspectives on new media art, and philosophical approaches to materiality and information culture.