Agnes Meyer-Brandis (DE) One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree For Another Tree

biochemical and biopoetic installation, 2019 - ongoing

Communication is an omnipresent and complex phenomenon, open to numerous scientific investigations and interpretations. However, to this day, there is no singular and comprehensive definition that satisfies its various aspects and fields of study. As a process of exchanging and transmitting specific types of information, it is not inherent solely to the human species but is also present in the animal world, among other living organisms, and in technical systems.

Scientific study of communication among animal species began long before that of plants, as vocal signaling, specific movements, and the use of scent were signals for animal survival and species propagation. Plants were long believed to be non-communicative and insensitive to their surroundings. However, plants are highly social and sensitive organisms, both above and below the Earth's surface, gathering information from their environment and communicating through roots and fungal networks. They react to sound, release chemicals and scents to warn each other of danger, defend against predators, recover from damage, and attract pollinating insects.

Many research methods for studying communication among plant species have been scientifically confirmed so far, but many phenomena and concepts still remain at a certain speculative level. This naturally opens up space for contemporary artistic practices to explore methodologies and inquire into concepts of modern science within an artistic context and with the help of scientific experiments. This is also the starting point of the latest work by German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis, who, through the study of tree scents in a complex forest ecosystem, examines their representation as inert organisms.

The biochemical and biopoetic installation One Tree ID – How To Become A Tree for Another Tree is the result of her long-term research into possible nonverbal communication between humans and trees through scent. Alongside scientific collaborators, Meyer-Brandis extracted and collected volatile organic compounds (gases and molecules emitted by each tree) and synthesized them into a perfume that every visitor can apply to their body. In this way, not only can the visitor carry a unique scent identity of the tree they stand next to, but they can also use parts of its communication system to speculatively engage in a conversation at the biochemical level that plants use for information exchange. The artist thus creates a certain empathy towards trees, while questioning the use of one's own senses to establish new connections and inter-species interaction.

Each tree has a specific imprint of volatile organic compounds that contribute to the creation of the forest's distinctive scent and cloud formation. For the exhibition at KONTEJNER, Agnes Meyer-Brandis chose the ginkgo tree (ginkgo biloba), and in June of this year, in collaboration with a scientist from the "Jožef Stefan" Institute in Ljubljana, gases and molecules in the tree's roots, trunk, and leaves were individually measured. Out of more than 100 compounds identified during the analysis, three perfumes were created – Cloud of the Roots, Cloud of the Tree Stem, and Cloud of the Tree Crown – and a unique ginkgo tree perfume was synthesized from them, showcased at KONTEJNER.

One Tree ID – ginkgo biloba was realized in collaboration with the Institut Jožef Stefan, Ljubljana and Marc vom Ende, senior perfumer, Symrise in the scope of the exhibition at KONTEJNER.

Organization and production KONTEJNER | bureau of contemporary art praxis
Curator: Tereza Teklić | KONTEJNER
Scientific collaboration: Dr. Lidija Strojnik, Institut “Jožef Stefan” Ljubljana
Design: Kuna zlatica
PR and communication: Inesa Antić
Thanks to: Kersnikova Institut (Galerija Kapelica / Kapelica Gallery)

The exhibition is realized within the European project Future DiverCities.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis (DE)

Agnes Meyer-Brandis is a Berlin based artist that creates works on the fringes of science, fiction, and fabulation. Educated first in mineralogy, followed by studies at the art academies in Maastricht, Düsseldorf, and Cologne, she has been the founder and director of the Research Raft, an Institute for Art and Subjective Science that is purposefully "asking questions but gives no answers" in fields such as climate research, environmental studies, meteorology, as well as synthetic and artistic biology. Meyer-Brandis’ work has been exhibited worldwide and awarded many prizes, including two Prix Ars Electronica Awards of Distinction, and the European Kairos prize.

Supported by