18 Questions with Adrienne Adar
1. What is your name?
2. Where are you based?
I am Los Angeles based.
3. What is your occupation?
I am an artist working in photography, sound, and interactive installations.
4. Is there a ‘green’ memory from your youth that led you to work with nature?
I’ve always had a strong connection to nature. For me, it started as an investigation because I like working through things that I don’t understand. There’s so much that we don’t know about plants, but what we do know is that their contribution goes beyond enriching our homes with their beauty.
5. How did the idea to listen to plants come about?
While sounds resonate everywhere and it’s always been one of my passions, I see plants as amazing living systems that inherently give great comfort when we are around them. One thing led to another, and I started working with analog technology systems. I created a specialized microphone, sensors, and amplifiers to liberate sounds that exist in the natural world. My hope is to blur the line between what we see and hear, fostering an increasingly deeper companionship between humans and the plant world.
6. Can you tell us about your latest work and the creative process behind it?
The Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations is an exhibition of a ten-year, multidisciplinary body of work investigating the hidden voices of plants that are currently exhibiting at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This body of work in its various iterations has been showcased in London, Korea, China and at Google’s headquarters in San Francisco. It not only provides a playful experience, but also casts a larger idea about how hearing the sounds of what the plants are feeling when they are touched by visitors effects our relationship to them and hopefully encourages visitors to learn more about ecology, sustainability, and the plants’ existence as well.
With this installation, I amplify familiar plants with handmade sensors so that visitors can interact with plant life through gentle touch and sound.
The way it works is that when visitors touch the plants, sensors pick up vibrations, normally inaudible to humans. For a one-on-one experience, these sounds travel through a wire into a machine for amplification and delivery through headphones. For others, a prerecorded track of these plant bodies plays through a large speaker mounted in the room.
7. How have your pieces and installations evolved over time?
Of course, as with most bodies of work, each piece I make answers some questions and creates additional ones that lead to the next piece. Since much of this work is interactive, I find it fascinating how people behave with the work, how it pushes their own boundaries and how they are left after that experience. Work made in my studio is different from work commissioned for a large public place. Each piece is evidence of an idea put into action in my studio. An opportunity for a commissioned piece is always exciting because it gives me a chance to develop new work and learn about that particular setting.
8. What do you hope the public takes away from your exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden?
Working with audio technology allows me to hear plants’ internal communications, which creates a stronger bond through sensory experience and understanding plants in their own ways. I want people to get more involved with nature and acknowledge that our actions have a reaction. If you hit a plant very hard, you’re going to hear that sound. If you touch it very gently, the sounds are much more complex and interesting, and you will be ‘rewarded’ by this sound. Which is all to say that the several installations at the garden are simulations, and it gives people an opportunity to touch and listen at the sculpture at the visitor center upon entrance. Then as they walk through the garden, they know that the same thing is happening with every leaf of every plant, no matter how little or how big, outside or in a conservatory. They know that they are all feeling everything that is going on around them from wind to rain to the huge construction drills working all day or the huge motorized fans that keep the air in the conservatories moving. Maybe it will make them more aware of when they (the visitor themselves) feel these different factors as well and they can grow a deeper connection with the environment around them because of that.
9. What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of your art?
I think the most rewarding is to have a feeling, form that feeling into an idea, translate that idea to a piece of paper and then bring a real functioning 3-D object into the world for people to experience. Also, particular to this work of illuminating the invisible world of sound and vibration and energy to people who have never thought those things in that way really feels like I can contribute to an important paradigm shift that could be amazing and important.
10. If you could listen to plants anywhere in the world, past or present, where would it be and why?
Hmm, I love the desert. There is a silence in the desert that is amazing and coming from the city it seems empty which is, of course, not true. It takes a day or so for your own body to stop buzzing with the frequencies of the city. So I find it really special when I can clear those city frequencies out and listen to what is going on in the seemingly ‘silent’ desert. So, to go to various deserts all over the world would be incredible, but I also find the Sequoia and Redwood forests of California to be one of the most amazing places in the world because to be surrounded by 300-year-old living things as tall as buildings is overwhelmingly powerful.
11. What do you believe to be the 3 most important roles that plants play in our lives?
As I have mentioned before, plants are amazing living systems with great effects on health overall. You only need to spend some time near nature to feel the difference; cities overpower plants vibration energy. But studies also demonstrate the fact that plants are important for the planet and to all living creatures. Plants have been confirmed to improve concentration and productivity by up to 15% in indoor spaces, reduce stress levels and boost your mood. We as humans, derive enormous benefit from nurturing a living thing and watching it grow, be it an ornamental flower or a plant that provides food. It makes us aware of the difference in human time and plant time. Although we cannot physically see a plant grow when we come back day by day, to see a leaf or blossom grow by day establishes a deep connection to our humanness. That is also something that science has studied and is bringing into the next era of space travel. Just in the past couple of years, the astronauts on the ISS have begun to grow lettuce to see how food production will progress for longer space journeys and for future living on Mars. But they also grew a gerbera daisy, which of course is not food but because the human benefits of growing something living for the sake of beauty is incredibly important to the psyche of the astronauts.
12. If you could change one way that society treats plants, what would it be and why?
There’s a desire to have something exotic and plants tend to be looked at as inert sculptures that are just décor in any given space. I would like people to understand that we need plants, not the other way around, and we need to cultivate them in the most natural way. I think the current scientific research into hydroponics in this area is incredibly fascinating.
14. What artists have inspired you?
Agnes Denes, Laurie Anderson, and Meredith Monk are three artists I have a deep admiration for and have learned a lot from.
15. What is one environmental change you hope to make in the next year?
Plant more trees and use less plastic.
16. What places on earth and in nature inspire your work?
Literally everywhere. From wildflowers that grow next to the freeway overpass and in cracks in the concrete, to the disappearing glaciers of Greenland and the Arctic. There are so many places I would love to still visit and experience.
17. What is next for you?
I have some projects in the works with a couple of Botanic Gardens overseas, and some installations that will go up on private land, so that’s very exciting.
18. What do you want your legacy to be?
As a female artist working in and on the environment, I’d like to not only bring awareness but contribute to the necessary paradigm shift of having a symbiotic relationship with the environment and how we engage with it.