Living in the northern hemisphere at this time of the year, one feels particularly well positioned to understand Philip Beesley’s installation “Epiphyte Spring”. Springtime is the season of blossoming, ripeness and exuberance; a time in which life is perceived all around us, awakening, unfolding. Beesley’s installation immerses us in this world, not only as spectators, but as active participants of this vital moment of nature.
The name “Epiphyte Spring” suggests that Beesley’s installation is inspired by ‘epiphytes’, commonly known as ‘air plants’. Epiphytes grow harmlessly on other plants such as trees, and obtain their nutrients mostly from the air and rain around them. In “Epiphyte Spring” human presence and touch become the nutrients that ‘activate’ epiphyte-like formations, triggering the development of a breathing architectural ambient of intimacy. Beesley explains:
This works in quiet ways, setting out ghost-like crystalline forms following diagrids and textile forms in order to make lightweight, resonant scaffolds. Networks of simple computational devices and sensors allow viewers to be tracked, offering small increments of gentle muscular movements that register our own presence.
“Epiphyte Spring” is part of a series of works by Beesley that share the conceptual base of ‘hylozoism’, broadly characterised by the belief that all matter has life. In describing this series Beesley points out:
The most recent generations of these works feature interactive lighting systems and kinetic mechanisms that use dense arrays of microprocessors and sensors. Chemical protocell metabolisms are in the early stages of development within many of these environments. These works contemplate the ability of an environment to be near-living, to stimulate intimate evocations of compassion with viewers through artificial intelligence and mechanical empathy.
Offering visitors the opportunity to physically interact with their surroundings, Beesley’s work impacts us on both cognitive and sensitive levels. While contributing to architectural research focused on understanding natural behaviour, Beesley’s installations place us in a relationship of reciprocal caressing between humans and natural-like organisms. Is the construction of this relationship that seems to be one of the greatest achievements of these works, as becomes the propelling force that precedes all commitment to the development of a more sustainable built environment.