Attempting Physical Contact With Geologic Time

These pieces began as an examination of the cellular structure of plant stems as they transport water upward, and how that structure is affected by stress from drought. Fabric is stretched taut as a nod to polar bonds between water molecules that create a negative pressure inside the passageways, or tracheates, of the plant stem. This pressure increases as amount of water decreases. If water becomes scarce enough, and that tension becomes too great, a plant cell can experience an embolism, and the valves on the cell walls that normally transport water upwards become sealed by positive air pressure. Too many embolisms and the plant can no longer transport water. Red embroidery and paint are a nod to the structure of those valves, but also are reminiscent of chromosomes and cellular reproduction.

In global seed bank partnerships, red is also used to list threatened plants. Many seed banks today focus on collecting and preserving genetic diversity of plants which have adapted to dry conditions–which is relevant now in Missoula and may become imperative in other regions as humans’ impact on the environment becomes more acutely felt.  Here layers of silk address layers of protective coating of seeds (which are also enclosed in 3-ply bags for long-term storage), the rigid structure of frames evokes the geometry of vault storage and architecture, and angularity and tension in installation suggests a precarious balance or potential energy.

In each of the above cases–taking a cross-section to examine a plant’s health or testing germination rates to preserve a set of seeds for future generations–there are limits to our ability to examine and preserve. While slicing a stem may provide information on patterns in other plants, it also kills the plant. The process of collecting and testing seeds for storage in a vault can take decades, which when added to the storage time, leaves us with seeds that have not adapted to the most recent ecological conditions–they instead reflect a frozen moment in time. These limits are a central issue in quantum physics—Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, for instance, asserts that while we can determine either the exact location or the exact speed of a particle, we can never determine both simultaneously. While the functioning of plant cells and seeds are points of departure for these works, the pieces are meant to raise questions about how our current methods of discovering new information may obscure as much as they reveal.