Developing digital technologies for the enhancement of sensory experience

The Forest Bathing workshop is based on the idea that immersion in forest/green environments provides unique and essential benefits for organisms, and to sketch out ways in which our technological systems – as extensions of our own faculties – could become more multisensorial or even synesthetic.

 

During three days a number of people came together to listen to, otherwise experience, participate in, and discuss about, the sensory richness of our environments and how we can become more deeply embedded in the semiosphere, as participatory learners and designers.

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Since the days were framed by the ideas that underpin biosemiotics, we set out to make more sense of the signals in our surroundings, and the first day was focused on migration. Specifically, what happens when plants migrate from their natural habitat, in this case the foothills of the Apennines in central Italy, to a lowland park location. To observe this, of course, is not possible within the scope of this short workshop, but a begin was made with planting and discussions followed.

Plants often migrate to other parts of the world, but mostly assisted by animals, and humans have carried plants over great distances for their interest. Plants can adapt, but we do not really know how they fully change their life and behavior. The idea behind the planting in Amstelpark of Italian plants was based on a small research project (Majectic et.al) that showed that plants that were transplanted from their natural habitat started to produce a different odour, even though they may still look the same.

Questions in our group arose… how would insects be attracted to these migrant plants, what other signals have changed that we are not aware of?

We already learned from the lecture given by Claud Biemans in the morning that some plants are no longer able to self procreate or bear fruit. And it was great to wonder about the life in the soil…. The Italian plants came from a poor clay soil in which they thrive well, now they are in a dark rich soil from a Dutch park…. To be continued.

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The following day we continued our discussions and focused on what kind of methods and instruments could we use to find out about signals that we do not know anything about yet, characteristics of our life support that escape our attention, or no longer are aware of. Exploration! and translation: how can we make these signals sense-able within our limited sensing range?

The odor of plants is intriguing and as part of the afternoon was spent prototyping a field instrument to identify odors outdoors. Progress was made with the intention to continue this effort in later events, hopefully in the natural habitat of our migrant plants.

The second day ended with a wonderful dinner featuring the taste of the Italian location, processed by means of fermentation, cooking and other laborious efforts. Wines, truffle cheese and risotto with saffron…we are grateful that people are still transforming these wonderful resources in incredible foods and drinks.

(Italian contributions to the dinner: wine from www.valturio.com; saffron from www.zafferanomontefeltro.com ; cheese from www.lacisterna.net and some other good things from the land of Montefeltro)

 

The third day was a special experience lead by Sissel Marie Tonn and Jonathan Reus. During a short presentation in the morning Sissel and Jon showed how they are developing an ongoing project focused on a new way of mapping and experiencing the world. Starting from very special places, for instance where old growth is still allowed to thrive, but where other plants have also been introduced by early explorers and scientists. Collection in, now old, archives are evidence of these efforts, but also a fossil of what once was. Sissel and Jon use these archives as a springboard to find new ways to experience the living world, called Cartographies of Human Sensation.

During the afternoon we all used the devices created by Sissel and Jon, that translated and amplified our experiences, to walk and map the park landscape. Walking with your own rhythm and questioning what this means, puts you in touch with your surrounding in novel ways, the ‘silent’ vegetation, and the presence of other park visitors. It challenged your spatial consciousness, closeness, distance and so on. Experience the world, it is bigger than you can ever imagine!

We hope we can continue all these efforts in new settings …

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