“Like our plant nature, we don’t hunt, it’s too much trouble. We seduce.”
Or at least, that’s the motto granted to Sarracenia – a plant indigenous to the US east coast, Texas and Canada – by the Plant Sex Consultancy (PSX). We’ve all thought about getting down to business in the potato patch before but this team of nu-breed scientists, artists, designers and philosophers may already have broken the mould of the SexTech concept.
The Plant Sex Consultancy employs design
methodologies to create augmentations for its vegetal
clients, which supplement and enhance their natural
That’s all well and good, but what does it actually mean? PSX seem determined – consciously or otherwise – to blur the boundaries of biological law and thought in plant life and humans. If that sounds a little strange then that’s because this is an extraordinary and unique process. What Dimitrios Stamatis and his colleagues are working on has the power to educate and inform, present new methods in plant habitation and agriculture, and may even provide fresh impetus in the fight against and prevention of certain ecological disasters.
To simply say that PSX are attaching sex toys to plants is to totally underestimate them. The cross-pollination of man-made sex aids, clothing, technology and the philosophical assignation of gender styles and roles to living things we take for granted as background color is providing all those that experience it with questions they may have never had before. You may even come to think of plants as people. You know, just like corporations are.
The implementation of sex aids bridges the gap and affects something akin to symbiosis. Plastic and metal stimulating stem and bud. Bringing together other elements of nature – insects for example – to facilitate the normal procedures. Refining them. Maybe we can all get along after all.
This isn’t Little Shop Of Horrors and it isn’t Swamp Thing either. We live on a planet that is bleeding like a stuck pig. Getting back to our roots is one of the best things we can do to stem the flow. PSX is art, philosophy, design, necessity and a whole lot more. It might even be the future.
Tell us a little about how the project got started. Was there a ‘Eureka moment’ that became the catalyst or was it a slower culmination of years of work?
The project was conceived as part of the Designing Life topic at the Biennial of Industrial Design (BIO50) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Our diverse team first met and collaborated in Slovenia so there was no preexisting culmination of a specific topic but rather the convergence of different backgrounds and experiences into a collaborative process. The “Eureka” moment happened in a design sprint meetup in London where suddenly all of the loose pieces fell into place.
What is the fundamental philosophy of the PSX Consultancy? What are we here to learn? Is there a moral for humanity brewing underneath?
In the wake of the currently changing paradigm of anthropocentrism, the aim of the Plant Sex Consultancy is to apply knowledge from the fields of science, design and art to create works that would challenge our understanding of nature, test the limits of design and present the public with a concept that tickles their presumptions about the plants as passive, unrelatable organisms blending into the background of our everyday lives.
In your discussion on your website about ‘the Eastern philosophy, which grants an equivalent status to all entities, living and inanimate’ can we say that the methods you apply to plants can be applied elsewhere? Where are the limits, particularly in the realm of sexual stimulus?
Plants are fascinatingly ingenuous when dealing with complex problems. This can be easily observable by the variety of strategies, they employ, for reproduction, attraction and seed dispersal. Taking this to the human level we can certainly be more open to possibilities when designing and be open to the fact that there are many solutions for each problem.
The whole team combined is rich with experience, knowledge and ambition. Given that you all seem to have arrived at PSX with varied backgrounds, what does each of you bring to the team? Does the mix of characters and experience work well?
Špela Petričh holds a PhD in Biomedicine (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) and Pei-Ying Lin studied Life Science as well as Interaction Design. They brought a deep level of knowledge in biology and natural sciences, scientific methodology and inquiry, a biologically-informed perspective and an ease of obtaining information using research databases, scientific papers and communication with botanists.
Dimitrios Stamatis with a product design background brought the synthesis of ideas into prototypes and Jasmina Weiss with a background in Architecture and Art provided support, coordination and exhibition planning. Each of the team members has a distinct individual background but also overlapping traits and openness to collaboration, this helped the form of a tight knit team with complementing and expanding skills.
Might we see a time when the work of PSX and any other similar projects can provide solutions to things like Colony Collapse Disorder and other scenarios that present a huge danger to plant life? Is it possible to increase reproduction to the extent that it propagates a real abundance of plant life?
The plant design process highlighted our inherent human biases and assumptions when designing for a significantly different Other. It also raised the question of whether designers can be completely objective. With planthuman direct communication being a little hard at the moment, we can only get a partial viewpoint based on observation. Interesting design ideas arise more or less from certain ‘good’ assumptions that were fussily built upon background information.
It was challenging and enlightening to see how designers must curb themselves when making such assumptions, or say, design insights. Due to its complexity and seer magnitude the Colony Collapse Disorder would fall in the category of wicked problems. The process of science fiction prototyping, blue sky thinking and rapid prototyping paired with scientific understanding and feedback could provide small experimental applications that would give us insights to understand this challenge.
Have you been approached by business interests wanting to use and adapt your work and findings?
No business interest has been expressed yet, although we would be open for future collaborations and interesting possibilities of extending the scope of the project. Following the initial presentation in Slovenia we have received a varied and positive reception from online magazines and art galleries that resulted in further exhibitions and workshops to present our work and methodology.
What are some of the STDs plants and trees can become infected with?
Plant STDs are mainly caused by parasitic fungi whose spores are carried from plant to plant by pollinators. A typical example is anther smut, caused by Microbotryum violaceum, which infects anthers and causes lifelong flower sterility. Some viruses and viroids can also be transmitted in a similar fashion by various insects, for example whiteflies.
Has the Plant Sex Consultancy received criticism from any quarters? If so, how have you responded?
The responses we’ve encountered have been predominantly positive. The only criticism we received was a complaint over the fact that the project was conceived within the Biennial of Industrial Design in Ljubljana and clearly this project tests the limits and competences of design as such. However, interdisciplinarity leading to hybrid practices is symptomatic of a society trying to make sense of the vast knowledge available. Attempts to integrate various perspectives as an alternative to fragmentation and specialization should be encouraged.
How has your research been received by your peers? What’s the next step for both PSX and the team as individuals?
There are various possibilities for future directions of the PSX project. More public engagement through hands-on workshops and critical discussions of the underlying thematics. To expand the collection of plant augmentations through the same methodology and try to engage audiences to experience the non-human perception. We are also open for collaborations to explore the plant-human potential further.