Plant TV

By Gopnik, Adam | The New Yorker, March 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Plant TV


Gopnik, Adam, The New Yorker


Jonathon Keats--a San Francisco-based experimental philosopher who has, over the years, sold real estate in the extra dimensions of space-time proposed by string theory (he sold a hundred and seventy-two extra-dimensional lots in the Bay Area in a single day); made an attempt to genetically engineer God (God turns out to be related to the cyanobacterium); and copyrighted his own mind (in order to get a seventy-year post-life extension)--came to New York a couple of weeks ago to exhibit his latest thought experiment: television for plants. In a landscape of conceptual art most often known for pure puzzlement or pallid preaching, Keats is a poet of ideas, whose work always rests on a solid basis of scientific research and resolves in a startling, semi-serious image.

The television-for-plants project has been installed in a fifth-floor space at the AC Institute, on West Twenty-seventh Street, in Chelsea. A collection of houseplants--the kind of rubber plants that your great-aunt watered and tended--rest on the floor, thoughtfully regarding a video on a screen above their heads. The video shows, on a six-and-a-half-minute loop, a beautiful Italian sky, which passes into night, complete with romantic Italian moon, and then returns to dawn. Visitors are urged to bring their own plants to watch the show.

Jon Keats--that really is his given name--has mastered an expression so sincere that one begins to suspect him of irony. With that look embossed on his face, he explained to a visitor, the other day, that television for plants was an extension of an earlier project to make pornography for plants. "Pornography is where every filmmaker starts out," he said evenly, "and in my case I was making pornography for plants by filming bees pollinating flowers." There were two different shows of plant porn: one in Chico, California, for about a hundred rhododendrons, and one at Montana State University, for as many zinnias. "I knew that the act of pollination was the most titillating experience for plants," Keats said. "So I spent a couple of days on the ground, seeing how light and shadow were experienced from their perspective. …

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