Sweaters for Plants, FloraBorgs and the Songs We Sing at AESS

Plant Sweater with text from “Welcome To The Anthropocene,”at this year’s Association of Environmental Science Studies (AESS) Conference at Pace University.

I am a sculptor who is interested in my culture’s interactions with the natural world. The pieces that I make often concern the concept of a biotope—small environments that are shared by multiple species, including humans. This work may also involve the notion of “trans-species giving.” Which is an idea that the commonalities between humans and other life forms are such that we humans may be able to give other life forms a “hand-up” however misguided or conceptually hamstrung we may be by our own culture’s interactions with the natural world.

Above, at the side, and at the end of this post are images of Plant Sweaters, 2014, sculptures that involve live plants wearing knit sweaters. I created this 2014 series and a number of other works for “Welcome To The Anthropocene,” an exhibition at this year’s Association of Environmental Science Studies (AESS) Conference at Pace University. The organization gave me a solo exhibition and dedicated a symposium to my artwork in recognition of the ways that the pieces I make have addressed anthropocene issues over the past decade. The exhibition showcased a number of recent works including a live web feed of the IndaPlant Project: http://elizbethdemaray.org/2014/07/21/indaplant-community-live-on-webcam/, the Endangered Species Recipe Book: http://elizbethdemaray.org/2014/10/30/the-endangered-species-recipe-book/, and a updated version of the Songs We Sing that I originally created for the Lloyd in Amsterdam: http://demaray.camden.rutgers.edu/2013/05/24/the-songs-we-sing-amsterdam-at-the-lloyd/

Upon learning of this honor form Jennifer Joy Pawlitschek, the AESS Art Director, I started to consider which pieces that I’ve been working on that might be relevant to the idea of the

The IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving—originally beginning as a collaboration between the artist Elizabeth Demaray and the engineer Dr. Qingze Zou—is designed to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants.
The IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving—originally beginning as a collaboration between the artist Elizabeth Demaray and the engineer Dr. Qingze Zou—is designed to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants.

“anthropocene.” As an artist who works in eco-art, new media and art and science collaboration, I’m an oddball in the art world. I make works that are not aimed at being sold, are extremely context specific and utilize a wide range of mediums and technologies. My pieces, which are always the result of a constellation of my preoccupations, may at first glance not look like a continuous body of work. In the past, I’ve countered this issue by typically only exhibiting one work at a time. However, when I considered the anthroposcene in the context of my work, I looked around my studio and I realized that everything I make is directly applicable to this concept. My artwork actually belonging here, at this symposium, has really been the oddest and most wonderful experience for me at the AESS conference. During this meeting of environmental studies people, I feel like I’ve finally found my peers and my home.

The dedicated addition of artists at the conference also played a large role in my experience of

The Endangered Species Recipe Book, oil on paper, 2014 The work is a series of oil paintings on paper picturing an extinct/endangered species paired with text form a specific, historic, recipe that us humans used to cook and eat the animal.

belonging at the symposium. The association allowed me to assist in curating nine other artists directly onto the environmental studies panels. Two other additional superb artist panels, put together by Peter Anderson, additionally added to the number of really extraordinary artists who participated in the conference. The interesting thing about these artists is that many of them had the exact same experience that I did at AESS; the feeling that we had finally found our family in a way that we never had in the art world.

All of this is a long pre-amble to Plant Sweaters, 2014. I began knitting sweaters for plants when I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley in 1997. At the time I wanted to help the natural world, but felt ineffectual in my efforts. The plant sweaters are a result of my desire to manafest this dilemma. Creating this series for Welcome To The Anthropocene at AESS, has afforded me the time to consider the ways that my orientation to this work has changed over the course of my career. I am still interested in my culture’s interactions with the natural world. The only difference is that now I’m feeling the full effect of my efforts.

_DLG5357 Plant Sweaters, 2014, by Elizabeth Demaray. Sculptures that involve live plants wearing knit sweaters.
Plant Sweaters, 2014, by Elizabeth Demaray. Sculptures that involve live plants wearing knit sweaters.


11Demaray PlantSweatdet copy


FloraBorg Community Update: 3 IndaPlants Up And Running

The IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving—originally beginning as a collaboration between the myself and the engineer Dr. Qingze Zou—is designed to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants. In this effort, we have have successfully created a floraborg, a term we coined to describe an entity that is part plant and part robot. This work has recently led to the creation of a larger team which now includes the biologist Dr. Simeon Kotchoni and the computer scientist Dr. Ahmed Elgammal. Our group is currently working on the creation of a floraborg biocyber interface. Addressing the super sensory capacities of plants, this interface allows humans to decipher plant-based information on ecosystem health, the effects of climate change and air pollution. In this capacity, the IndaPlant may allow us to model and support environments that are able to sustain humans and plants alike. A video of the current project plant community can be viewed at  https://vimeo.com/90457796.

Detail of IndaPlant taken at Rutgers University, June 12, 2014.
Detail of IndaPlant taken at Rutgers University, June 12, 2014.

At the project’s inception, I initially intended to mount the plants on light-seeking Brattenberg vehicles. Originally created through a series of thought exercises by the Italian/Australian Cyberneticist Valentino Brattenberg, these simple vehicles utilize a basic schematic for attraction and avoidance. Once the IndaPlant team began considering the possibilities inherent in the creation of a floraborg however, we realized that we could instead wire the vehicle through an Arduino board. This current configuration not only allows for species-specific programming but also supports simple adaptive behavior, in the form of machine learning. The current IndaPlant community consists of three data-sharing, light-sensing, robotic vehicles, each of which can respond to the needs of a potted plant by moving it around in three-dimensional space in search of sunlight and water. The IndaPlant rides on a three-wheeled triangular carriage. An acrylic shell covers the unit’s base and internal components. Inside the unit’s housing, the Arduino microprocessor and three microcontrollers allow the floraborg to be programmed with the specific needs of the species that it supports. This housing provides a plant docking station at its apex and is externally sided with three solar panels, which the robot uses to re-charge its battery pack when the plant suns itself. Six sonar sensors, used for obstacle detection, are externally mounted the base of the unit.

The IThe IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving, Elizabeth Demaray and Dr. Qingze Zou, 2014, utilizes machine learning and robotics to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants.ndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving—originally beginning as a collaboration between the artist Elizabeth Demaray and the engineer Dr. Qingze Zou—is designed to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants.
The IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving, Elizabeth Demaray and Dr. Qingze Zou, 2014, utilizes machine learning and robotics to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants.

As an interactive art installation, the IndaPlant Project was created to be shown in a public exhibition space. The artwork is currently housed in the Engineering Department at Rutgers, where the floraborgs have become part of the daily routine. When Dr. Zou’s comes to work in the morning he is greeted by the three IndaPlants, which jostle with one another to exit his office in search of sun in the adjacent hallway. When an IndaPlant is thirsty, a moisture sensor sends a signal through the unit’s central processor which may decide that its plant species needs water. If so, the unit will locate a water dispenser in the hallway, via an inferred sensor. If a floraborg is in the immediate vicinity of the watering station, passer-buys are invited to give the plant a drink. IndaPlant Project status updates and current videos can be seen at elizbethdemaray.org.

Manhattan Tundra Project

The Manhattan Tundra Project proposes the creation of human supported emergent ecosystems on the unused tops of modernist buildings in Manhattan. The project’s aim is to install 6 to 8 inches of top soil on each structure and re-use urban gray water to support unpeopled spaces that may be utilized by migrating plant and animal species currently threatened with climate change. The ultimate goal of the project is to support cliff-type ecologies that may become their own form of unique urban-life. The Tundra Project also proposes the installation of computer vision systems at the top of each building, so people who live or work in these structures can log on and see whatever live forms choose to inhabit their supported, non-peopled, Tundrascape.

Show here is a series of sculptures that are based on the shapes of the land masses in the NY Harbor. these sculptures are upholstered forms that have been planted with bird guano that has been collected from plant/seed eating migratory birds. The idea is that us humans may be able to support living non-human systems through the creation of Tundrascapes that may, in turn, support migrating plant and animal species threatened by climate change.

The project also proposes For info: https://elizabethdemaray.org/ Or follow the project @elizdemaray

Namesake Project: Italian Beach on the Seine

Scientist believe that if each human could plant six trees, global warming would be a thing of the past. Many human settlements have a rich cultural heritage which connect to nature through their namesakes. The Namesake Project proposes re-planting the trees and forests that lend their names to many parts of the peopled world.

This past summer in partnership with Jardan Botanique de Marnay Sur Seine and the village of Marnay Sur Seine, I had the opportunity to realize Italian Beach on the Seine an installation that involved actually planting six Italian Poplar trees, at a treeless place that the locals called Italian Beach on the bank of the Seine river.

A long time in the making, Italian Beach started in 2014 when I was an artist in residence at Mason Vert a fabulous artist residency in the town of Marnay Sur Seine, which is in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France off of an old Roman road that stretches between Paris and the city of Troyes. While there, I would take long walks along the bank of the Seine as it twisted through ancient farmland and deserted patches of bramble. One evening I chanced to see a family of twenty or so wild boar traveling along the deserted bank of the river, on the the far side, at dusk. One of the small piglets, bringing up the rear, actually stopped to roll in an inviting patch of mud, before jumping up to run after its family.

Only known image of original “Italian Poplar” on postcard from the region. Collection of Marie-Thressa, Marnay sur Seine, FR.

The next morning, I had the pleasure of joining the mayor of Marnay and the director of the botanical garden for coffee. Both were in their sixties, had lived in the area all thier lives, and were startled to learn that wild boar were living along the banks of the river. When I described the spot where I spotted the group, the mayor mentioned to that this would have been at “Italian Beach.” Almost in passing, I asked if the place had been named that because Italian immigrants had been living there. They laughed at me and said no. They explained that once upon a time, a long time ago, there had been an immense, ancient Italian Poplar growing on that spot of the bank. They both  remembered seeing when they were very young children and recalled that you could see it from a great distance and that it dominated the rolling plane of farmlands that stretched out from both sides of the river. Neither of them knew the origins of the tree, who planted it, or how old it was. One of them remarked that they didn’t know when the tree actually disappeared, but that  most people in the area probably wouldn’t know why that deserted turn of the river was referred to by that name.

Back of only known image of original “Italian Poplar” on postcard from the region. Collection of Marie-Thressa, Marnay sur Seine, FR.
Scouting Lombardi Poplars in the Aub, 2018

Something about this brief interaction gave me pause. I didn’t know if it was that this marker in the landscape, had almost completely disappeared save for its linguistic wake, but I felt like, somehow, I wanted to hold on to this tree before it was completely gone. I was also thrilled by the idea that this very old tree had outlived it own origin story. The few people alive who remembered it were only able to testify it its final days and the namesake of this bend in the river had almost entirely passed from the institutional memory of the village.

Soaking the starter trees in the Seine in order to support root growth, 2018
Planting six Lombardi Poplars at Italian Beach, 2018

This past summer I returned to Marnay-Sur-Seine, to research and work on Italian Beach; the Namesake Project. While there I din’t see any more boar but I did meet the probable decedents of my immigrant tree. It turns out the at Italian Poplar, also called the Lombardy Poplar, was the rage in Europe in the late 1700. Attaining heights of 120 feet and fast growing, these trees were used as wind blocks and were planted on both sides of roads in long stretches, creating formal cannons in which to travel between communities. They were even used to demarcate the grave of Jean-Jaques Rousseau at Ermenonville, France. Forming one of Europes most famous tree plantings, the tableau was often imitated.

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 9.22.35 PM
They were even famously used to demarcate the grave of Jean-Jaques Rousseau at Ermenonville, France. Forming one of Europes most famous tree plantings, the tableau was often imitated in other plantings

Italian Poplar Marssonina Brunnea P. Magn in the sixties, states

“Lombardy poplar presents a striking form in the landscape.

The Lombardy w a s disseminated through-out Europe in the mid-eighteenth century fromItaly, where it was found growing on the banks of the Po River in Lombardy.”


Russia’s grave: http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1994-54-1–a-most-dangerous-tree-the-lombardy-poplar-in-landscape-gardening.pdf

While in Marnay this visit, I paired with the Jardan Botanique to harvest, trim and start a crop of 12 Lombardy Poplars. After harvesting young stocks of the tree from an stand on a nearby estate, I soaked the ends of the the saplings in the river for six week. At the end of this incubation period we planted, with the approval of the local municipality, six of these saplings next to the river. I was only in Marnay for a few days after planting, but the community promised that they would continue to water the trees.

Research in the field of cognitive psychology tells us that the best way for humans to adopt a new behavior is to tie it to a ritual that we already practice. I am proposing this community artwork on a global scale. Each nation on earth celebrates their day of national origin with a holiday. In the US this day is the Forth of July. In France this celebration is marked by Bastille Day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we marked our connection to these celebrations with planting one, or six, Namesake tress?







The Camden Colorfield Project

The Camden Colorfield Project is planting a giant colorfield painting in Camden, NJ, created by the blooms of indigenous flowers in the hues of the rainbow.

The Camden Colorfield Project envisions the city of Camden as a giant colorfield painting, created by the blooms of indigenous flowers in the hues of the rainbow. A community art action, the Colorfield Project is making “Earth Balls,” balls of earth that that contain the seeds of indigenous wildflowers. Targeted for city wide planting, these marble-sized balls are made out of clay and planting soil. In celebration of Earth Day, project participants are invited to create balls embedded with the seeds of wildflowers. Each ball is then rolled in the colorant that corresponds to the hues of the wildflower seeds contained within. Once a project participant makes an Earth Ball, the ball can then be planted in a private or shared community garden. Not only will these blooming flowers be beautiful to look at, they will also support the pollinator species (birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and bees) who do the work of pollinating our crops and supporting our ecosystems.

Colorfield  participant holding an Earth Ball at workshops in Camden, Earth Day 2019.

Psychologists tell us that the best way to acquire a new behavior is to attach it to a ritual. The Camden Colorfield Project proposes that Earth Day, should be a time for planting Earth Balls. Much like Easter eggs, these balls of seeds can be colored with child-safe colorants. Colorfield Project uses Halo power, corn starch colored with food dye, for a beautiful bright finish.

In Camden, the Colorfield Project seed balls are targeted to be disseminated in specific zones of wildflower color across the city. North Camden is currently being planted with white wildflowers. Traveling south, the next zone down is being populated with pink wildflower balls. Crossing the Rutgers-Camden campus, the third zone going south is being planted with red wildflowers.  The orange zone begins on the south side of Market Street.  The yellow and green zones continue to Atlantic Avenue. The blue zone comes next and the last zone concludes with purple wildflowers in South Camden.

Colorfield map of indigenous wild flower plantings in the hues of the rainbow, 2018.


Please come join us in 2020! We will be offering public Earth Ball making workshops at the Rutgers-Camden Campus Center campus on Earth Day, April 22, 2020 from 12:30 to 3:30 and we hope to see you there.


The color for the Colorfield Project is listed below courtesy of American Meadows. Feel free to order your own seeds and make your own Earth Balls. Our eco-system and the other 9 billion people on planet Earth will thank you.

Cheers and remember “Earth Balls for Earth Day.”–Elizabeth Demaray


AM013211 Indian Blanket Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 8.96 04-05-2019
AM013478 Drummond Phlox Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 20.86 04-05-2019
AM013030 Eastern Red Columbine Seeds 5 3.56 04-05-2019
AM013206 Blanket Flower Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 12.56 04-05-2019
AM013399 Cardinal Flower Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013448 Lemon Mint Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 19.95 04-05-2019
AM0130 Rocket Larkspur Seeds Pink Queen – 1/4 LB 1 15.95 04-05-2019
AM013040 Common Milkweed Seeds – Packet 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013201 Joe Pye Weed Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013444 Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013098 Siberian Wallflower Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 9.95 04-05-2019
AM013154 Sulphur Cosmos Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 8.51 04-05-2019
AM013043 Butterfly Weed Seeds – 1 Ounce 1 25.95 04-05-2019
AM012359 Partridge Pea Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 8.95 04-05-2019
AM013147 Sulphur Cosmos Seeds Dwarf Lemon – 1/4 LB 1 15.16 04-05-2019
AM013461 Evening Primrose Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 6.95 04-05-2019
AM013510 Black Eyed Susan Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 11.01 04-05-2019
AM013196 Rattlesnake Master Seeds 20 3.95 04-05-2019
AM012961 Borage Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 9.95 04-05-2019
AM013080 Blue Cornflower or Bachelor Button Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 5.56 04-05-2019
AM013408 Blue Flax Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 8.06 04-05-2019
AM013042 Prairie Aster Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013480 Lacy Phacelia Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 5.66 04-05-2019
AM013026 New England Aster Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM013392 Blazing Star Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 23.71 04-05-2019
AM013423 Perennial Lupine Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 11.36 04-05-2019
AM013468 Cape Daisy Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 19.95 04-05-2019
AM013398 Sweet Alyssum Seeds – 1/4 LB 1 9.95 04-05-2019
AM013004 Penstemon digitalis Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019
AM012937 Whorled Milkweed Seeds 5 3.95 04-05-2019



Red Seeds:
1/4 lb Indian Blanket Seed – Annual, Blooms in Summer, 12″-24″ tall
1/4 lb Drummond Phlox Seed – Annual, Blooms in Summer – Fall, 20″ tall
5 packets Eastern Red Columbine Seed – Perennial, Blooms in Early Summer, 24″ tall
1/4 lb Blanket Flower Seed – Perennial, Blooms in Summer, 18″-30″ tall
5 packets Cardinal Flower Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Late Summer, 24″-48″ tall

Pink Seeds:
1/4 lb Lemon Mint Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Spring – Summer, 12″-24″ tall
1/4 lb Rocket Larkspur Seeds Pink Queen – Annual, Blooms Early Summer- Late Summer, up to 48″ tall
5 packets Common Milkweed Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Summer, 30″-60″ tall
5 packets Joe Pye Weed Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Late Summer- Fall, 36″-96″ tall
5 packets Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Mid-Summer to Fall, 24″-48″ tall

Orange Seeds:
1/4 lb Siberian Wallflower Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Spring, 10″-18″ tall
1/4 lb Sulphur Cosmos Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Summer-Fall, 36″-48″ tall
1 Ounce Butterfly Weed Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Summer, Up to 36″ tall

Yellow Seeds:
1/4 lb Partridge Pea Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Mid-Summer-Early Fall, 24″-36″ tall
1/4 lb Sulphur Cosmos Seeds Dwarf Lemon – Annual, Blooms in Summer-Fall, 20″-30″ tall
1/4 lb Evening Primrose Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Summer, 24″-60″ tall
1/4 lb Black Eyed Susan Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Summer-Fall, 24″-36″ tall

Chartreuse Seeds:
20 packets Rattlesnake Master Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Mid-Late Summer, 24″-48″ tall

Blue Seeds:
1/4 lb Borage Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Early-Mid Summer, 24″-36″ tall
1/4 lb Blue Cornflower or Bachelor Button Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Summer, 28″-36″ tall
1/4 lb Blue Flax Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Spring-Summer, 18″-30″ tall

Purple Seeds:
5 packets Prairie Aster Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Mid-Late Summer, Up to 18″ tall
1/4 lb Lacy Phacelia Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Spring-Summer, 12″-24″ tall
5 packets New England Aster Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Late Summer-Fall, up to 48″ tall
1/4 lb Blazing Star Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Summer-Fall, 24″-48″ tall
1/4 lb Perennial Lupine Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Spring-Summer, 12″-36″ tall

White Seeds:
1/4 lb Cape Daisy Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Early-Late Summer, 12″-18″ tall
1/4 lb Sweet Alyssum Seeds – Annual, Blooms in Spring-Fall, 8″-16″ tall
5 packets Penstemon Digitalis Seeds – Perennial, Blooms in Early-Mid Summer, 36″ tall
5 packets Whorled Milkweed Seeds – Perennial, Blooms Mid-Late Summer, 24″ tall

Manhattan Tundra Project

Conversation between artist Elizabeth Demaray and Igor Bronz, Engineer / Project Manager, Gaia Technologies LLP, Gaiatechnologiesllp.com on the Manhattan Tundra Project, 1/14/2020

IB: We need to green 50% of all buildings in NYC inorder to counteract the urban heat island effect/

ED: okay, so I’m going to describe the Manhattan Tundra Project to you and then I’m going to ask some questions about soil and some questions about the ways that this project might be able to help you. Art/sci collaborations can garner lots of publicity and it will be a different kind of publicity than you might get from a public planning project or science research.

In terms of background, as an artist, I’m really interested in figuring out how to use the built environment to collaborate with other lifeforms and I think that the built environment is turning into a new kind of ecosystem all by itself. I currently have an extraordinary studio residency at the World Trade 3 building. I’m on the 70th floor. Last year I had a residency at the World Trade 4 building and I was on the 68th floor. It is amazing up here because I’m above all of the other modernist skyscrapers that were built over the course of the last century. And what you see, looking down on the tops of all the other modernist buildings around me, that there are all of these empty rooftops that people are not allowed to go on. These big square boxy buildings have flat area on the very top. These areas usually house maintenance equipment, so fans and generators and things like, that also big spaces that are carefully covered with tar and gravel. 

Looking down on these roof-tops from my fancy studio at World Trade I realized that these buildings had never been designed for people to see them from above.  The other thing that I thought was really amazing they are these empty spaces that are open to the elements but not to humans. So, I started to think about the kinds of interesting habitats that these areas could be for our companion species. I’m particularly interested in ecospaces where humans are not allowed to go. It occurred to me that we could to just put 8 in of topsoil on the tops of these buildings and then simply see what other life-forms show up and are able to sustain temselves at that height.  I started calling the project the Manhattan Tundra Project. As you know the height of a tundra landscape is much higher that a typical skyscraper, but I like the idea of that these buildings offer us and the other life forms in our shared ecosystem a new higher space to inhabit. So, the Manhattan Tundra involves putting topsoil on the tops of these buildings along with a webcam computer vision system. That way everybody living or working in the building is able to log on and watch whatever type of emergent ecosystem evolves. I’m basically trying to get urban dwellers to watch grass grow. I’m also planning to put some very large, very long flat screens down in the building entrances, so that urban dwellers can watch a slow, long-term, video feed of what’s going on in these little spaces. 


So, could you tell me about your soil what it’s made out of and how heavy it is and if it might be applicable to the Tundra Project?

IB: We produce GaiaSoil which is an ultra-lightweight green roof soil media that is essentially made up of recycled styrofoam, compost, clay and a special type of pectin that allows microbes to grow in it and it functions better than most top soil. My colleague and GaiaSoil inventor Paul Mankiewicz discovered that the limiting control for plant growth is availability of air within the soil so you want to have a soil or any sort of medium that has a high porosity. This stuff weighs weighs about 12 pounds per cubic foot which is a lot lighter than a typical topsoil which weighs about 85 lb per cubic foot fully dry. Talking about saturation, you can’t change the weight of water so GaiaSoil ends up weighing 34 lb per cubic foot compared to about a 110 lbs for topsoil. Our stuff is pretty ideal prefer for something like this because as you mention the rooftops are not designed for people or recreational activity so they are not really reinforced for that. Whenever you are designing a building with a rooftop you want you really want to know what is going to be on that roof because if you’re planning on having people up there you have to really increase the load bearing capacity of that to accommodate the extra weight

ED: That sounds amazing. My first question is about weight. it’s very windy on the tops of skyscrapers and one of the issues is that you’ve got to make sure that whatever you put out there is not going to blow off.  Do you use some kind of netting or a monofilament fiber structure in the soil?

IB: Oh absolutely, so GaiaSoil was specifically designed for rooftops and we have had issues in the past with a soil wanting to blow off the roof so the way we dealt with that was as you mentioned would you have a kind of netting that we place on the soil but when it’s placed on the roof before it has anything growing in it from blowing away. We use either a Jute coconut fiber net or burlap both of which are biodegradable so it keeps the soil on the roof while the plants have a chance to grow and eventually it just decomposes and supplies the soil with nutrients. Mature plants are able to hold the soil together with their own root structure

ED: Wow! I specifically like the way that the structure actually goes away and/or becomes incorporated in the system. I’m going to guess that you all have done some experiments with the kinds of plants that work best in terms of structure. What kinds of plants are they? How long is the growing time? And are they indigenous life-forms?

IB: Absolutely. The plants we use are always native to the area where they green roof is because we don’t contribute to an invasive plant spreading from our roof to other roof or gardens. We take the whole ecosystem very seriously. Our roofs have tall grasses and leafy plants -we prefer plants that have a leaf area index of a 3 or higher meaning that the total area of the leaves and plant surfaces is three times higher than the footprint of the plant itself. We have a number of roofs that are fully developed that you can see for yourself. We have the Linda Tool Green Roof in Red Hook, the Einstein Green Roof at the Albert Einstein Medical School. We have several green roofs on the 5 Boro maintenance facility on Randall’s Island that’s owned by the New York City Parks and Recreation. That building probably has the highest number of unique green infrastructure projects anywhere in the world. They have something like 30 types of green roofs on their roof by different manufacturers, using different styles. We definitely have these roofs already in existence and I like I’ll be happy to take you on a trip there. I’m good friends with Max Lerner who manages the sustainability for New York City Park who would be happy to give us a tour.

ED: I am I am so excited to see these rooftops! I have a question, could you possibly insert a picture of each of those rooftops with the addresses into this document? Of course, I am really excited to see the kinds of plants that have been recommended, particularly in relationship to the pollinator insects. I had the pleasure of learning a little bit about Monarch Butterfly migration. They, and other migrating species, look for plant color on the ground doing flyovers. For the Manhattan Tundra Project, it would be great to use some kind of netting that would stay in place for maybe five years. I would probably also have to build some sort of infrastructure for water retention. Do you have any thoughts about how to do that? 

IB: I’ve actually never heard of anybody putting a green roof on a skyscraper before. So I’m very interested in to see what will happen because a tundra is a continuous high elevation landscape, but the urban landscape with skyscrapers has these extremely high elevation differences. You can go from street level to fifteen hundred feet up and that’s actually really interesting from a research perspective. I’m thrilled that you’re taking the initiative on this. As for water retention, one of our roofs, B’nai Jeshurun, is a roof on the synagogue on the upper west side. They wanted a deep soil substrate just on the edges so we constructed deep planters made of wood that have about a foot of GaiaSoil and the capacity to accommodate another foot of water. GaiaSoil is lighter than water so you can’t overwater it – let’s say 5 times more water by volume that there is GaiaSoil, what will end up happening is that the soil will float up with all the roots holding the soil together, and the water is going to create a reservoir below the soil substrate. The plants are the ones who decide how much water they need and will pull up more water through the soil structure as they use it. How much water you want to put in there and how deep this container depends on how the water will be supplied to the building, whether it’s through overhead rainfall, through a separate storm drain or from the grey water of the building itself. It also depends on the load bearing capacity of the roof itself to hold all that water at a given time, so the maximum reservoir capacity needs to take that into account.  

ED: Everything that you’re telling me about this soil makes me think that it is really ideally suited for urban spaces. I especially like the fact that it creates its own reservoir underneath. It occurs to me that this is a lot like the self-watering gardens that people are now engineering. It’s wonderful because it’s a super great way of sequestering water in your landscape. This is turn is a great way to keep your city nice and cool during heat spells. I also like the idea of using the natural runoff from the rooftops.  You could also basically dictate how deep your reservoir would be underneath your soil. 

In terms of these spaces becoming more like islands, I’m interested in the idea of something called a biotope. A bioscope is a small ecosystem that is usually shared by number of species. These groupings often included humans. So I’m really interested in the kinds of  biotopes that might exist on in buildings that are adjacent to each other. I’m also interested in the way that an ecosystem basically self-identifies the kinds of life forms that it’s applicable to. There are also other environmental factors that are prominent in these kinds of situations. One is that you get extreme variations of temperature at these heights. So, not only do these life-forms have to exist at high altitudes, but they’ve got to have a nice wide temperature range.

Off the top of your head, if we were going to be doing say an area of 40 by 40 square feet of topsoil, how much of a reservoir would you imagine that would be needed for water underneath? I’m thinking that we would want the system to support sod type grasses.

IB: Sod grasses don’t really need much of a reservoir, they can function just from the capillary water within the soil however if the water is going to come from the gray water system then you don’t really need any reservoir at all because the flow will be very frequent but if you expect rain to be infrequent like when we had three weeks of no rainfall a few months ago, we don’t want the grass to die or get very wilted as that will influence the types of organisms that going to exist on that roof so I’d say maybe a few inches will definitely be enough for the rooftop. It would be interesting to have nests for eagles and falcons as well due to the buildings’ great heights. 

ED: Yes, I have! I’m actually doing a project right now called The Shelter Project: nesting in the built environment where we’re making nesting boxes for native birds and bats out of old single mold Econoline suitcases and other forms of human detritus. So yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I’m proposing some sculptures a little lower to the ground in the vacinity of lower Manhattan. There is also some amazing work that’s been done looking at the spots where birds of prey and migratory birds gather before crossing water. So I love the idea of putting some nesting boxes in the Tundra Project. I think that’s a wonderful reason for people to log on and watch. As an aside, I’m not the first artist that has thought about migration patterns in relationship to tall buildings. There have been extraordinary artist like Lynn Hull working in this area for some time. 

I do however have some basic questions about green roofs.  What would you do in a 40 by 40 square foot space on the top of a modernist building that didn’t automatically have its own runoff water system? 

BI: The way we waterproof the planter or the roof itself has to do with the size of the roof or container, so if we if we’re planting soil into boxes for planters then you can line it with waterproof geotextile or even a plastic tarp.  40 x 40 is 1600 square feet which is a fairly small green roof, which can be waterproofed with something called polyurea, which is a type of spray on waterproof coating. Its about a few millimeters thick, has a 30-year lifespan guaranteed by the manufacturer to waterproof a roof. Many roofs have waterproofing issues which can potentially cause a leak so the benefit of polyurea is that since its spray-on, it goes into all the cracks and its durable enough to not get ripped through. It adheres to the roof like paint, so that there’s no chance of there ever being a leak and we’ve used polyurea for number of our green roofs and some of them have been around for over 10 years such as Linda Tool, which has not had a single leak in its lifespan.

ED: This is great! I actually love the idea of your green roof helping to insulate your building from leaks. That’s absolutely wonderful. So I have another question for you. I’m very interested in finding out on the kinds of lifeforms that would simply show up in an emergent ecosystem. I’d actually like to find scientists who are interested in studying these kinds of systems. What would be good for your company to look at in relation to this project? What would you be interested in studying or seeing in this kind of framework? 

IB: I think this would be a very fascinating in and of itself, and helps move the dial further in developing the scalability of green infrastructure in general. We won the Access Cities Open Innovation Call on Air Pollution and Urban Heat Island Effect competition for our ideas on how to scale green spaces in the urban environment to change the urban climate, but the trend for urban development seems to be “buildings up” -you want higher density and tall buildings are more efficient when you have limited space, but because you have more tall steel-and-glass skyscrapers, its harder to integrate green infrastructure into them. We typically put green roofs and green walls on short buildings and buildings that are built using an older style because of their large roofs, high load bearing capacities and sheer concrete or brick facades. Its trickier to adapt our own technology to skyscrapers because the roof of a skyscraper is so small compared to the overall structure of the building. We want to utilize more of the building in some way, such as its vast vertical components. Your research is critical in defining what can grow at high altitudes as well, which is challenging when attempting to place high altitude green walls as well. We can only hypothesize, and I’m not a biologist by any means, but Paul is definitely a biologist of renown and can answer your questions about the life forms that could be there but of course nobody really knows until it’s done. A green roof on a skyscraper can function as a reservoir, or perhaps I should use the term “water capacitor” because we want to eventually be able to put a green wall on a skyscraper but it will need to be fed with water from somewhere and a green roof is much more effective as storing water than a green wall. Due to high winds and lack of substrate, green walls need to be irrigated in some manner, and the green roof could be the source of that irrigation. A significant challenge is being able to greenify the skin of skyscrapers, and this could be one of the solutions to doing so. 

ED: So here’s my thought, if you could fill in information about Gaius, I think the Manhattan Tundra Project would be a really nice way to frame your soil. I’m currently doing a project at Monmouth University which is much lower to the ground, but I think would be a really nice way to use your soil with students. I also want to mention a project in 2011 that was called the Lichen for Skyscrapers Project  where I simply started culturing lichen on the sides of skyscrapers. I did this for a festival called Art in Odd Places on 14th Street in NYC. As part of the artwork, I sent form letters to the buildings in the vicinity of 14th Street. Of course, nobody got back to me about smearing slurry on sides of their buildings. Luckily, I found a building that was owned by artists who were participating in the festival where I was able to do a planting.  I also ended up doing walking tours where myself and an amazing biologist, who was interested in lichen, took people on walking tours of the city to see lichens. At the end of the walks, we would teach everybody how to make lichen slurry. We also gave out baggies of lichen slurry to everybody on the tours who lived or worked in a high-rise. My students began to call this lichafetti because the cool thing about lichen slurry is that you don’t need permission to plant it. You only have to get a window open a couple inches, just enough to get your wrist outside in order to smear slurry on the building’s exterior. The great thing about lichafetti is that if the lichen doesn’t take, it will dry up and blow away to propagate somewhere else. I’m currently working on ceramic tiles that will support large scale propagation.

IB: First of all I want to say that I think they like the idea is fantastic and I don’t know if you’re away of this but lichens save lives, because they have an incredibly dense structure and a huge surface areas on vertical surfaces and especially street canyons. What ends up happening is that you get all this air pollution coming from car exhaust and other sources and as the wind blows the air pollution around, especially particulate matter 2.5, which is particularly harmful to people as its one of the reasons why they say that a person living in the city their whole life has the lungs of a smoker, the lichens end up trapping particulate matter and other solid air pollutants, which are then washed off by the rain, dew and wall runoff thereby taking it out of the air and flushing it into the drain. Actually we just with New York City Parks a few weeks ago and they were asking us for designs of how to implement moss and lichen on green roofs in systems that can essentially maximize its surface area so that you can remove more air pollutants. GaiaSoil is a patented product and we’re the only licensed producer, but I’m sure we can just deliver it to you for free generally. It’s not very expensive ($150 per cubic yard) which is about the same price that you have for other green roof media. We produce GaiaSoil in our facility in New Jersey. We can have the soil delivered in about one or two weeks, especially since it’s not a huge amount. We’ve had orders for like 70 yards of soil which requires multiple 53-foot trailers to deliver. This one can be delivered with a fairly quick turnaround.

ED: Wow! How much would we need for a 10 ft X 10 ft. area?

IB: 10 by 10 foot side is 100 feet so that would require let’s say six inches of GaiaSoil, so we’re looking at about 50 cubic feet of soil or 2 cubic yards which is not a large delivery. Volume wise, it’s almost like a planter so I would recommend building a planter the area where you want to put that soil. A 10 by 10 foot wooden box with a 1.5 foot high edge should do the trick, to accommodate any rise in soil level due to water, waterproofed using geotextile or tarp and secured flush to the edge (the weight of the soil will fill it out). The edge of the geotextile or tarp should go over the wall of the siding, and nailed into the wood to secure it but only from the outside. Don’t nail it on the inside of the planter so as not to puncture the waterproof liner. 

ED: Excellent! It sounds like a plan.



On view: Home Is Where the Plastic Eating Stomach Is

Home Is Where The Plastic Eating Stomach Is, a living sculpture and community art action, considers the roll of plastic in our daily lives and proposes that we view this material as a resource. The heart of this installation is a plastomach (plastic+stomach), which actually consumes plastic by virtue of living fungi. Utilizing resent research from the John Dighton Lab at Rutgers University, this open source design suggests that we may be able to re envision our consumer waste cycle by expanding the habitat of white rot fungi into our domestic living spaces.

Have you ever felt sad about disposing of plastic when it may end up in landfill? Do you worry that your plastic debris may become micro particles in the ocean? If so, please bring a plastic object, and a libation to share with others, to Swale House, 15 Nolan Loop, Governors Island, for a Porch Chat and Plastic Catharsison September 6th, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, with Elizabeth Demaray and the artist researchers at Swale House.

Detail of Home Is Where The Plastic Eating Stomach Is, stomach that digests plastic by virtue of living fungi, community art installationSwale House, 15 Noland Loop, Governors Island, June 29th to October 30th, 2019, photo by Tessa Ecker

Collaborating with organizations including the NYC Urban Field Station, Space HL and the Urban Soils Institute, Swale House, Mary Mattingly’s Swale, is utilizing an historic house on Governors Island in Nolan Park. It is free and open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am – 5pm, and in the evenings on the first Friday of every month for a Porch Chat lecture, June 1 through October 30th, 2019. The house is staffed to provide information on the Swale barge, the development of a food forest on Governors Island, and work Swale is doing with the NYC Urban Soils Institute. http://www.swaleny.org

Detail of Home Is Where The Plastic Eating Stomach Is, stomach that digests plastic by virtue of living fungi, community art installationSwale House, 15 Noland Loop, Governors Island, June 29th to October 30th, 2019

More on how to participate in Home Is Where The Plastic Eating Stomach Is below:

Come partake in an alternative form of plastic dispossession. Between June 29 and October 30, bring your plastic waste to Swale House, Governors Island, NYC, and it may become feed for a living sculpture that digests plastic via white rot fungi. Utilizing an open source plastomach, (plastic + stomach) design, this entity can be fed plastic waste and may help us envision a world that’s free of plastic debris.

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Info on white rot fungi:

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The Shelter Project: nesting in the built environment

The Shelter Project, seeks to create alternative forms of housing for our companion species out of discarded, man-made, detritus . Shown above is an indoor installation of the project at the Manhattan Tundra exhibition on the 65th floor of the World Trade 4 Building. Each hard-walled suit, luggage and makeup case in the exhibition has been ventilated and retrofitted with pine walled nesting and hibernation chambers.

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In an effort to better utilize human detritus, the Shelter Project aims to consider the ways that human refuse may be re-purposed in order to support the needs of non-human life forms.  Pictured above are  discard hard-walled Samsonite and American Tourister suit, luggage and makeup cases that have been retrofitted as nesting and hibernation boxes for birds and bats.

More than 50 different species of birds nest in bird houses. In suburban areas where there is less vegetation or natural environments, nesting boxes are essential in providing the birds with a safe place to raise their young. When birds migrate, bird houses also provide them with a place to rest.

This project aims to consider the ways that human refuse can be re-purposed in order to support the needs on non-human life forms. If you have old, plastic luggage that has been created in half shell molds (meaning that they don’t have seams) that you would like to convert, guides to nest box plans for your region and habitat can be found at https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/


Floraborgs on the Cover of Technoetic Arts!

The floraborgs are on the cover of Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research. I couldn’t be more thrilled. The floraborgs appear in an article by Patricia Olynyk titled Synthesizing fields: Art, Complexism and the Space Beyond Now. In the article Olynnyk does a superb job of tackling the rapidly expanding territory of art/sci production in relation to world-view of Philip Galanter’s Complexism which “…constitute a rich array that spans complexity theory, biological systems, cybernetics, computation and the phenomenology of affect. An ever-growing movement of transdisciplinary artists who engage and synthesize the unique combination of fields, theories and practices associated with Complexism suggests that this model – particularly its embrace of complexity theory – holds promise in the problem space of art and science.  

The current volume of Technoetic Arts, featuring floraborgs on the cover and containing a great article on Complexism by Patricia Olynyk.

The article then goes on to examine the work of contemporary art/sci artists and their collaborative teams, this kind of collaborative practice being almost the norm in this field. These works include Dark Skies, by the author herself in collaboration with Sung Ho Kim, Axi:Ome and Christopher Ottinger, Stealing Attention, by Ellen K. Levy in collaboration with Michael E. Goldberg , The Chatting Room by Vita Eruhimovitz and the IndaPlant Project. In this overview Olynyk does a striking job of identifying the hallmarks of these works and unifying them under the umbrella of Complexism. She points out that all of these works are deeply engaged in cultural discourse and states that these artworks “…arguably contribute to a higher synthesis of modernism and postmodernism and the coalescence of art and science through the progression of ideas that emerge from this union in direct correspondence to the larger culture.” She continues by pointing out that all of these works come into being through a performative function either by evolutionary/generative processes, connectionist networks or participatory practices, or a varying combination of the above.

Olynyk ends on a high note, stating that “…the movement’s optimism might engender new discourse about contemporary life that generates a new holistic paradigm, moving us beyond the space of postmodernity.” I can only hope that this will be the case!

If you would like a copy of this article, or anything else in this issue of Technoetic Arts, you can contact he publisher. If you are in the US you should use the following address: http://ebiz.turpin-distribution.com

As this kind of art making is deeply engaged in cultural dicourse

Dark Skies, prompts a heightened awareness of the inter- relationships between biological systems, affective behaviour, and embodi- ment. This multisensory installation is a collaboration between Patricia Olynyk Studio, Sung Ho Kim and his design/architecture team: Axi:Ome, and sound designer Christopher Ottinger.

Transpiration Collector: Special Project for STEM 2017 at UWF Pensacola

STEAM 2017, We did it, we designed a major transpiration collector that actually works. All my thanks to the University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL. All my thanks to the STEAM class at Pensacola. Congrats everybody and all my thanks for your help with the project.

The Demaray Kotchoni (DK) Transpiration Collector is an open source design created by Elizabeh Demeray and Dr. Simeon Kotchoni, for a plant based H2O purification and transpired water collection. Transpiration is the process that plants use to secrete purified H2O on the undersides of their leaves — trading water for atmospheric gas (CO2) assimilation– during the photosynthesis process. Depending on environmental conditions, select species of plants may produce up to 10 times their own leaf-water content every day via transpiration. Originally built for the IndaPlant Project: An Act of Trans-Species Giving, this Demaray Kotchoni (DK) collector has been fabricated out of recycled plastic that has been coated for human water consumption.

This fabricated form functions as a trough system which collects the water from the underside of each leaf before it evaporates. These manmade structures can be built from readily available refuse such as used water bottles, milk cartons and plastic packaging.

The Demaray Kotchoni Transpiration Collector (2014), is an open source design created by E. Demaray and S. Kotchoni for a plant based H2O purification and transpired water collection.

The Transpiration project proposes to use this process to produce purified drinking water for the inhabitants of Camden, NJ, one of the most polluted post industrial cityscapes in the North East. The DK collector pictured here when used with the Peace Lily plant is able to collect 5oz. of purified water each day, about enough for one cup of tea.