From the colonization of Tongva, Chumash, and Kizh land to the ongoing urbanization of Los Angeles, whole ecological communities have been uprooted without acknowledgement. Requiem for Lost Plants calls for reversing death. Artists Alice Yuan Zhang and Alexander Kaye digitally resurrect diminishing plant elders to share their stories for a global public through an immersive online environment, and for locals through site-specific augmented reality filters.
Web-based visitors find themselves in an anthropocentric representation of urban Los Angeles, juxtaposed by the brightly-lit presence of five ancestral plants. Salix gooddingii, Salvia apiana, Sphaeralcea ambigua, Pseudognaphalium californicum and Layia carnosa dot the environment, hailing from diverse local communities of wetlands, sand dunes, chaparral, and coastal sage scrub habitats. The public can also interact with each plant through an audiovisual AR filter, accessible globally online or locally at their respective ‘culprit sites’ around Los Angeles, where human development has drastically altered their long-standing habitats — by the Taylor train yard leaving a century of contamination, near a commercial ‘wellness’ store in Hollywood, under a freeway bridge, in a park honoring the first oil strike in Huntington Beach, and at the eroding shores by the LAX airport.
Throughout the many millennia that these plants have called the land home, long before human concepts of ‘property rights’ and ‘manifest destiny’, they have cultivated know-how for not just their own survival but for the wellbeing of whole ecosystems. Each plant holds a nuanced story of collaboration and generosity so bountifully found in nature. We risk losing this wisdom as our own challenges of greed, neglect, and myopia continue to push aside and erase the deep generational knowledge of Indigenous peoples and make it increasingly difficult for the ecosystems themselves to survive. As one metropolis node of many in 3hd Festival, artists Alice Yuan Zhang and Alexander Kaye highlight this hidden narrative of Los Angeles to invite urban dwellers’ curiosity for ecological pasts and futures in their own locales.
"Plant data was used in several areas for the sound design elements of the Requiem project. Notably, collected plant data from various California ecological resources was interpreted as source frequencies for sound components such as LFO rates, frequency ranges, various clocking functions, and wherever else the numbers seemed to fit into the sound design processes. For example, if a particular plant has 5 flowers on each bloom, that may have been interpreted into an LFO with a rate set to 5HZ, which in turn could have modulated a clock’s division before entering the modular synth system to create the unique sound for that plant. Besides using literal plant data as inspiration, other creative and artistic decisions were guided by the individual plant’s unique characteristics. Things like a plant’s ecological impact on its surroundings was taken into consideration. For example Goodding's Black Willow (Salix gooddingii) has a very low and grounding base for it’s sound considering both its average lifespan and its root systems having a large and significant impact on its environmental surroundings. In addition, some plants and other objects in the environment have field-recordings I’ve collected all over Los Angeles. A few to name are the ocean sounds for Beach Layia collected at Dockweiler Beach, the rustling sound for the California Everlasting plant captured by moving pieces of the plant’s papery flowers together, and the freeway sounds recorded on the side of the 110 freeway near Highland Park."
Requiem for Lost Plants is created by Los Angeles-based artists Alice Yuan Zhang and Alexander Kaye for 3hd Festival 2020: UNHUMANITY, commissioned by Creamcake and NAVEL.
Alice Yuan Zhang (she/her) is a mixed reality artist, designer, and program organizer. Her work bridges the sacredness of natural environments with the speculative power of human-made ones, inviting exploration into interspecies empathy, generative networks, and the illusion of agency. She is the co-organizer of virtual care lab, a current resident artist at CultureHub, and an involved member of NAVEL. Alice studied at University of California, Berkeley. Web: https://aliceyuanzhang.com/ IG: @aliceyuanzhang
• Beach Layia Full Sound Profile (created with modular synth and Ableton)
• Sage Full Sound Profile (created with modular synth and Ableton)
• Black Willow Full Sound Profile (created with modular synth, Ableton, and Dave Smith Prophet REV2)
• Globemallow Full Sound Profile (created with modular synth and Ableton)
• California Everlasting Full Sound Profile (created with modular synth, Ableton, and Dave Smith Prophet REV2)
• LA River Recording (Taylor Train Yard Location)
• ‘Train Breathe’ Recording & Sound Design (Recorded at Taylor Train Yard Location, manipulated with modular synth and Ableton)
• Simulated Bee Sounds to accompany Globemallow (created with modular synth and Ableton)
• Pacific Ocean Recording (Dockweiler State Beach Location)