Seeing where oxygen comes from is an intimate experience. Holding still – but still trying to breathe – I catch light traveling between lenses after it has bent through the stomatal aperture of an imprinted Jacaranda tree leaf. The microscopic mouths of the plant are revealed.
Jacaranda’s lips catch my breath.
Life-giving oxygen, passing through our human lips into our lungs, is exhaled from the lips of plants. This intimate relationship is one we are utterly dependent upon, yet one that plants can survive without. Magnified plant skins show the structure of their lip-like pores, stomata, to be similar to ours.
Microscopy is used to create images from the skins from the leaves of three different plants. The skins of all terrestrial plants contain stomata, which are shaped like human lips and function in a perfectly complementary way. They exhale oxygen while we inhale it – and they inhale carbon dioxide while we exhale it. In plants, these specialized structures are slightly different across species, and surrounded by interlocking pavement cells, which are also distinctive. The plants chosen are symbolic of the cities the work would be exhibited in for the Festival Arte & Ciencia Trans-Disciplinar & Trans-Nacional (FACTT).
Lisbon = Jacaranda
New York = Rose
Mexico City = Dahlia Pinnata
Each of the images of plant skins becomes its own “body” through transformation into a printed patterned fabric. Each is sewn into the shape and size that deflated human skin would take (if it no body were inside it). In the place where a “head” would be, is a live specimen of the plant that is represented in the skins.
I did much of the imaging for the project at a fantastic residency in Portugal, Cultivamos Cultura. I learned a stomata microscopy technique using superglue to imprint of leaves onto slides. Thank you to Alecia Biel and the Meier Lab at the Ohio State University for teaching me this. Thank you to the Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Lisbon for additional microscopy assistance.
Thank you to Marta De Menezes for curating this work in the FACTT exhibition and for the photos of the installation at Mute Gallery.