The Museum of Plant Art explores aristic self-expression of plants. 

In line with scientific, artistic and philosophical non-anthropocentric research, which acknowledges intelligence, interiority, and consciousness in plants, The Museum of Plant Art examines plants' gestures to review aptitudes usually attributed exclusively to humans like talent or artistic intention, as well as traditional categorizations of the arts and art makers in academia and museums.

While we often celebrate human artworks produced in altered states of consciousness, that connect with audiences in manners that go beyond the intellectual or the intelligible, we psychologically resist recognising that same capacity of self-expression in plants. Fear, ego, ignorance, obstination, or maybe a lack of will to review a shared understanding of the arts coined by museums and academia might be behind this rationale, yet our disregard of the non-human poses a main threat to our future. The Museum of Plant Art reviews common conceptions of the arts while also advancing a non-anthropocentric perspective.

Sitting at the opposite end of Western, patriarchal, colonial and extractive capitalism, non-anthropocentric perspectives advocate for a pluriversal collaborative coexistence with other species. In such case, they are considered as cohabitants, and not providers, to be acknowledged and understood within their own rights, inviting reflection on the discourses and practices of differentiation and exclusion of other species, as well as the underlying politics and economies of this exclusion.

Socio-ecological concerns are at the centre of The Museum of Plant Art. Exhibitions and publications from the museum don’t aim to aestheticise nature but to open a political exploration of plants as makers of aesthetic experiences, as artists.

A museum with a vegetal structure.

The Museum of Plant Art has a vegetal structure. It develops, grows, metamorphoses and decays in a variety of forms adapting to a given context. This mutable structuring means the museum doesn’t have a vertical fixed architecture but rather an interdepend flexible one.  

The Museum of Plant Art exists only via collaborative partnerships with host institutions. No physical construction and  no extra consumption of utilities is involved, making its exhibitions and programmes more sustainable. Sharing existing infrastructure is central to the museum’s ethics as is the sharing of research, resources, practices, knowledge, and experiences.

Being a mutable museum that adapts its programme and projects to a given context has translated into greater chances to include and engage with a wider range of local communities.

The variable location of the Museum of Plant Art allows us to develop specific outreach initiatives together with its host institutions. This, in turn, not only facilitates access to the museum’s events and activities but also ensures that the museum’s resource and knowledge production (such as video-recorded conferences, publications, and outputs from participative activities), is reflective of the multiplicity of languages and cultures that should inform its non-anthropocentric agenda.

Social dialogue, exchange, and co-design, actively inform the agenda of the Museum of Plant Art. Interdependencies with host institutions also ensure that the museum’s agenda isn’t marked by a single perspective imposing an understanding. This decolonial strategy allows for a multiplicity of views to significantly intervene in the museum’s production and overall exitance.

Like any plant in its ecosystem, the museum aims to celebrate and expand on existing art communities and programmes. Being part of a network to benefit from and contribute to, where collaboration and interchange are native. The museum’s vegetal, horizontal architecture also means the museum is not structured in organs or departments and has no hierarchical organigram, but it rather symbioses with each specific art community.

Plants transform and are transformed by their environment. They create and embody the landscape they inhabit forming affective cooperative ecologies with agents in their contexts. This leads plants, pollinators, funguses, and algae to co-evolute together to better support each other’s existence.

The Museum of Plant Art aims to honour the natural affective ecologies plants form and metamorphose and transform together with its host institutions.

The Museum of Plant Art previous exhibitions and publications
The first exhibition of The Museum of Plant Art (October 2023) focussed on the  range of intricate visual, auditive, olfactive, and gustatory experiences wildflowers provide to pollinators. It examined the immersive spaces flowers create and the strategies they put in place for their target audience.

In this first iteration, The Museum of Plant Art offered an immersive installation celebrating the complexity and beauty of plant colouration choices, using plant-based biodegradable iridescent materials donated by the University of Cambridge.   The exhibition also included the use of scents and tailor-made music for the space reflecting on the harmonious vibration flowers and pollinators produce together.  

The first exhibition was accompanied by a publication by Filigranes Editions and a conference at the Museum of Contemporary Art Les Abattoirs in Toulouse. Both the publication and the conference facilitated reflective debate and expanded on the immersive exhibition experience with a series of contributions from leading philosophers (Mathew Hall), scientists (Mathieu Lihoreau, Nicolas Langlade), journalists (Andreina de Bei) and art academics (Michel Poivert)  fostering debate on us, our understanding of art and our understanding of earth living beings.

On developing empathy for plants.

Since ancient Greece, the unperceivable movement of plants has been associated with a lack of inherent life in them*. Plants have historically been seen as passive and motionless, incapable of sensation or consciousness. We now know that plants are complex organisms with unique behaviours, communication systems, and responses to stimuli. Plants perceive their environment, make decisions, and adapt to changing conditions. Plants are capable of self-change and they also move, not even necessarily slow, as we can see in BBC documentaries. **

The Museum of Plant Art was created to foster debate and reflection on our understanding of ourselves and other species and to mitigate the scarcity of institutions directly embracing nonanthropocentric perspectives in the arts. Alternative institutions give a platform to alternative narratives. If art museums celebrate human-made art, The Museum of Plant Art aims to nurture a political exploration of plants as makers of aesthetic experiences, as artists.

The Museum of Plant Art argues the reasons leading us to think that plants don’t make art fundamentally lie in our understanding of others, often discriminatory, as we frequently attribute certain capacities exclusively to ourselves until proven wrong. These capacities can be cognitive like sentience or awareness, but also artistic like creativity and innovation.

While we deny capacities in plants, we certainly copy them. We copy technologies, designs and even architectural structures for our own buildings, products, and materials. This is often called biomimetics or biomimicry. In the case of architectural designs, it’s particularly paradoxical, because the word archi (first/principal) teckton (artisan/craftsman) would place plants as “first creators”, which philosopher Michael Marder argues they are***.

The first exhibition of The Museum of Plant Art  included a promising example of biomimicry developed by the University of Cambridge. These are plant-based celluloses containing nanocrystals that plants use to make their flowers interesting to pollinators and to control temperature. We humans, hope to apply these celluloses to our budlings soon to counterbalance the warming of our cities due to the climate crisis.

The conceptualization of The Museum of Plant Art has benefited from conversations with philosophers, scientists, psychologist, art academics and others leading research on non-human living beings. I believe this is necessary to tackle gaps in the knowledge we have of other species, to bring forward conversations on art production, but also to facilitate discussion on our often-discriminatory perspective, the politics and economies benefiting from the marginalisation of other species, and the psychological reasons leading to it.

Experimental and non-anthropocentric approaches are more being gradually adopted in scientific, artistic and philosophical debates. However, there is still resistance to embrace them. The development of The Museum of Plant Art was frequently met skepticism and the counterargument that recognising artistic capacities in plants is a form of anthropomorphising them, that developing a more empathic perspective towards other species is nothing other than a “identificatory projection”, a form of human-centred narcissism.

In “Empathy for Plants” philosopher Matthew Hall discusses this issue and proposes strategies to empathise with the non-human, rejecting the understanding of empathy as a projection process.****

Hall takes a perspective in which empathy is not limited to one’s “own isolated consciousness, trapped within the cartesian body and separate from other forms of consciousness.” (2022, p.125) Hall’s text amalgamates a collection of philosophers defending a perspective where a community is implicit in every individual and through this embodied intersubjectivity we can understand an experience without having to establish an analogy or a projection.

Plants are alive, their gestures convey inner states, says Hall. “Plant life histories and behaviours become then gestures and expression of life/mind” (2022, p.129). The recognition of these gestures makes human-plant empathy possible.

It is also worth mentioning that Western culture, profoundly marked by rationalism, cartesian division of the mind and body, and objectification in the service of functionality, might interfere with this process of empathising with earth co-habitants. Many non-western living cultural traditions relate in a more empathic manner with non-human living beings, and in this sense, the museum aims to facilitate a greater reconnaissance and understanding of other forms of knowledge and philosophies.

The ensemble of experiences, texts, conversations and reflections offered by The Museum of Plant Art aim to facilitate debate and assists us to do the uncomfortable effort of rethinking our self-attributed “sapiens” label and to develop a comprehension of other beings as cohabitants within their own right.

*Coren, D. (2019) ‘Aristotle on self-change in plants’, Rhizomata, 7(1), pp. 33–62. doi:10.1515/rhiz-2019-0002.
** These Seeds Can Walk! (2022). The Green Planet. BBC Earth
*** Marder, M. (2013) Plant-thinking a philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
**** Hall, M. (2022) ‘Empathy for plants’, Environmental Ethics, 44(2), pp. 121–136. doi:10.5840/enviroethics20225237.

Photograph of the crystalline cellulose donated by University of Cambridge for
The Museum of Plant Art first exhibition.