In botany and dendrology, a rhizome is a modified subterranean plant stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. In their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Deleuze and Guattari propose the rhizome as a model for theorizing the idea of the assemblage and the multiple. According to Deleuze and Guattari a rhizome, unlike a root, interacts heterogeneously with the world “because there are no points or positions” (29) in it, only lines. To take an example, the domain of language and the domain of the body cannot be separated as territories of distinct rules because they are always in a process of interaction, reshaping one another. Further, a rhizome signifies a multiplicity because its principles of connection with the world preclude a unified nature, or identity. The notion of multiplicity undermines identities and unities by the very fact that its modes of connection and interaction are in constant transformation. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari, “an assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimension of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands” (29). The rhizome signals beyond the idea of representation or mimesis because rhizomatic interaction submits only to intensifications or relaxations of dimensions, magnitudes, and determinations in the evolution of a system. Rid of the idea of representation, rhizomatic evolution can be thought of as taking place in a plane of exteriority in which lines of flight weave through processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization.
Ecosystems are biological environments of interacting organisms and their physical environment. Broadly construed, ecosystems can be thought of as systems whose interacting parts form a functional whole. An electric power system consisting of generators, and transmission and distribution systems, forms an organ of the ecological niche that humans occupy. An ecological niche refers to the environmental conditions to which a species is adapted, but which it also shapes to fit those adaptations.
Thinking of ecosystems as rhizomatic entails recognizing that conceptual wholes are in concrete terms never self-sufficient and complete but always transforming in concert with interactions of what’s outside them. The power grid deterritorializes extant organic niches of species by making space for expanding human settlements, but the organic species can reterritorialize human-engineered space by growing into them and decomposing its constituents.
Ensembles in Phase Space
Strange Plants uses plastic transparent orchid pots, store bought potting soil, and indoor wire used for extending electrical appliances. Coaxial cables extend, protrude, and branch out from the loam filled pots and plastic plumbing pipes, both from the top and the perforated bottoms. The cables wind and curl akin to rhizomatic growth. The pots lie horizontal as though punctured by an alien growth of electro-mechanical forms. At the same time, they suggest a rupture and slowness of its line of flight in penetrating the dense loam. The question which is deterritorializing which is ambiguous.
In The End of Certainty, Prigogine considers the evolution of complex systems. A phase state is a point in a system of two or more bodies mapped by position and momentum (the product of velocity and mass) whose evolution can be described by a mathematical function. When several unstable systems are taken together as an ensemble, the slightest variation in the initial conditions results in a stochastic pattern, a pattern that wildly diverges from the evolution rule.
At the scale of ecosystems, evolution rules can only be mapped by probability distributions, i.e. statistical descriptions, of very narrow domains of validity such as the economy of a geographical region or the population growth of a single or two contiguous species. Strange Plants suggests the ensemble of complex moving parts: electrical power systems, forces of production and consumption, and organic compounds that power an ecosystem.
Just as shoots in an autotroph (producer in a food chain) are conduits of nutrition and energy, cables in human ecological niches are conduits of electrical power and information.
“A rhizome has no beginning or end…it is always in the middle.” (Deleuze and Guattari 25)
Strange Plants, to borrow a phrase from A Thousand Plateaus, suggests “phenomena of relative… acceleration and rupture”. Two ecosystems, the earthly organic and the human engineered, collide in their lines of flight, are reassembled and made strange to intimate their interlacing contours.
Strange Plants brings together three lines of flight occurring at the statistical level of populations: the supply chains that bring these products to stores, the electrical power system that enables the use of electrical power adaptors, connectors and plugs, and the loam which powers the producers (plants) in the ecosystem. The transparent pots signify the permeable membranes of organic and non-organic bodies. The cable shoots and stems signal the deterritorialization of organic ecosystems by human-engineered systems, but the loam in the pots intimates the dependency of heterotrophs (organisms that cannot manufacture its own food by carbon fixation) on its fertility. The deterritorialization of the organic ecosystem by human-engineered forces ironically threatens the sustenance of the human ecological niche.
Funnel & Pipes or Élan Vital
The contraption involves a filter funnel, a continuous chain of coiling plastic pipes, and a plastic cup at the end of the chain, representing a drain. The contraption suggests a blend of intestines and plumbing. Entangled within the open coil is a wider-brimmed pipe that forms a closed loop. The closed loop invites the spectator to consider the nature of feedback and transmission. A transparent sac of milk invites the viewer to feed the fluid through the funnel, while considering the integrity of the contraption in conducting the fluid to the drain. Because the contraption lacks dynamic integrity, and the input sufficient kinetic energy, the solution cannot be conducted to the drain. The fluid stasis generated causes the nodes of the open pipe to swell, and eventually to collapse centripetally. The iconography of milk as nutritional fluid through inflexible polymer pipes both invokes and estranges the familiar image of biofluid dynamics. What causes the body to lose integrity? The body gives way to abjection through a breakdown of robustness and flexibility within regulatory processes that aim at equilibrium.
Funnel & Pipes considers the idea of the body as unstable conduit through the familiar image of the pipe. A conduit defines as a “channel for conveying fluids”, and by analogy to this matter of fact meaning, any “abstract entity, person or organization that acts as a channel for the transmission of something”. The conceit of the conduit invites an abject perspective into being: it frames it as hollow, empty, a transience at the service of continuity. The contraption thus invites the viewer to consider this idea of continuity; what is it? If humans are vessels for the transmission of genetic information, and if genetic information amounts to a set of encoded patterns relative to environmental variables, then what is being transmitted lacks a stable core, or quintessence, but constitutes a morphing continuity. Integral instability and clogs interrupt transmission in a conduit, like terminating branches in a phylogenetic tree. The contraption thus interrogates the meaning of transmission as such, in its manifold forms. It serves as a window outside our bias toward success, and considers dissolution and growth toward disorganization as statistical norms in the distribution of organizational outcomes.