chiseled in the stony
flesh of the planet
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists Sarah Jane Gorlitz and Wojciech Olejnik—who collaborate and exhibit under the name Soft Turns—conducted an experiment. In a corner of their studio, they planted several Outredgeous red romaine lettuce seeds in a specially designed container.1 Set atop a tank filled with water and rocks, the artists set up a camera to take a photograph every five minutes, documenting the plant’s growth and development in the round.
In the resultant video, REACH, we see not the gradual blossoming of the plant’s vivid red leaves, but rather the tentative and fragile expansion of its root system. At first, a single white tendril descends into frame, its trajectory decisively following the signals sent by the gravity-sensitive statoliths2 in the root tip. Soon it is joined by other tendrils, looping and coiling over themselves, searching for a firm place to land. Below, rocks—some glinting with the distinctive green-gold flash of embedded circuit boards—seem to float in a vacuum. As the roots descend, other tendrils sprout along their lengths, each stretching further to probe their environment. Background noise in the form of the low, whirring, staticky hum of seismometer recordings from Mars suggests an otherworldly, futuristic scene.