homes we've never known
The plants presented in homes we’ve never known are domesticated cultivars of undomesticated originary rootstock, who haven’t yet had the chance to be part of a broader ecocultural community.
These plants were grown in a nursery setting, sprouted, selected, and cared for by humans in separate containers. They are placed, still in their black plastic cladding, on simple grey plinths in the austere, human-oriented gallery environment. In a moment of strange intersection between plant and human life, human participants are invited to sit at eye level with these plants and contemplate their forms, textures, and beings.
Each plant is paired with a sound piece created using field recordings gathered from ecosystems in which their plant relatives currently live and thrive. These in-between areas of the world that we still call ‘the wild’ are pockets of space and time that have not yet been completely colonized by humanity, where plant, mineral, and animal communities gather and interact.
The small green ephedra nevadensis plant is paired with sounds from the cliffs above the San Juan River in what was formerly designated Bears Ears National Monument, where ephedra plants mix with junipers, pinon, cryptobiotic soil, rock/rain tinajas, jays, and ravens in a highlands community. The tufted grass alkali sacaton is paired with sounds from the remnant grasslands in the Madrean Sky Islands region, where swales of grass intermingle their roots, provide forage and shelter for insects and birds, and edge the sides of agave patches and mesquite groves. And, the whorling, spindly chamisa plant is paired with the sounds from the interior of an enormous, mature chamisa – 5 feet around and bustling with pollinator life and the crystalline sounds of branches tapping against each other in the high desert wind roaring above the Rio Grande gorge.
The sounds of these established plant communities – the activities of pollinators, birds, soil, wind, and rain – are sounds and experiences that these particular plants have not had the chance to know. I wonder if these plants feel longing for those deeper, more established connections, for the chemical, electrical, and physical sensations of community and home. We human listeners can be psychologically transported to different locations through these immersive sounds, but the plants, unable to hear these sounds, can only sit and hope that someday they might be a part of homes like these.
Postscript: homes we’ve never known works with plant life and field recordings gathered and encountered throughout a 3-month period of intensive engagement with different ecosystems through the Land Arts of the American West program. I will continue to struggle with and be grateful for this opportunity to be introduced to many of the lands and inhabitants of the North American Southwest, and the honor, joy, and responsibility I feel with and toward them. Each plant included in this artwork has been relocated to a growing community of former orphans in my backyard, where I hope they are having some interesting conversations.