Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier managing editor
Haley Edmonson, Campus Carrier viking fusion news producer
Artists and creators of PlantBot Genetics Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki visited Berry on Monday to present their projects and ArtLab Trailer to campus.
After having successful careers as individual artists, the couple decided to put their passion for the natural world into their artwork. Founded in 2008, PlantBot Genetics is a parody of large agricultural companies that manipulate the production and distribution of food. According to their website, monsantra.com, the idea was to imitate corporate practices to expose potential consequences of production practices.
Within their traveling ArtLab, running on solar power, the couple presents several robot-plant hybrids to use humor to spark discussion around the environmental costs of agricultural practices. These creations include moving grass, singing flowers and solar-powered cockroaches.
More specifically, DesChene and Schmuki used their ArtLab trailer and hybrid creations on campus to promote their ongoing Moth Project. The Moth Project works to promote the importance of pollinators, such as bees, moths and bats. Their hope is to engage the public in their entertaining pieces to begin a conversation about moths and the ways students can help. They even set up tents to attract moths to show participants their beauty and variance.
According to DesChene, this particular movement started when she and Schmuki realized the lack of knowledge surrounding agrochemical and genetically modified organisms being produced and sold at that time. According to DesChene, this sparked their interest, and they explored the idea of spreading awareness.
“We don’t want to tell people if its good or bad, we just want people to know this is a thing so they can do their own research and figure it out for themselves,” DesChene said. “So we asked ‘how do you get people to listen?’”
DesChene and Schmuki determined that the soap-box method or shock value are nonstarters for conversation. They then realized that in order to engage people in their topic, individuals themselves had to prompt the questions through their own curiosity. This is when the artists decided humor would be the best way to gain attention.
With moving grass and singing plants, they create funny or unique situations for people to ask them about their purpose.
“It gets them laughing, and they think it’s funny, and that’s a really powerful place for somebody with a message to be,” DesChene said.
Their humor appeal also works with individuals of any age or walk of life, according to DesChene.
“Everybody laughs, whether it’s a little baby or somebody who is much older,” DesChene said. “Laughter is universal, and we don’t even have to be in our own language. And then their next question is ‘why?’”
The artists have given national and international presentations and exhibits with PlantBot Genetics. The couple hopes to change the environmental issues they are promoting with their art as nature evolves.