New East Digital Archive

‘A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself’: meet the artists pioneering plant-based sound

24 September 2021

When we place a seashell close to the ear, what do we actually hear: the sea or the shell? Do all seashells sound the same, or do they bear a memory of their own? Perhaps they capture the sound of the sea inside their grooved and textured whorls? Such questions are central to Flowgardenz: an artistic collective exploring the natural world through sound, science, design, video, and performance.

As part of their series of plant-based sound experiments and performances, Still Life, the artists extracted brash, intricate, unexpected sounds by touching, crumpling, and bending plants. Held in May in Moscow creative hub Flacon, the event saw each sound recorded on mics and woven into an ambient composition by Karina Kazaryan, an Armenian-Russian musician who works under the alias of KP Transmission.

Kazaryan used digital algorithms to transform the raw sound, creating the patchwork melodic tapestry in real time. The experiment was captured in a video premiere for The Calvert Journal, while avid listeners can find the audio track on Soundcloud.

The event built on a performance held last year at the ISS MAG gallery in Moscow. The experiment, which lasted more than nine hours, saw Flowgardenz act as set designers, directors, and curators. Artists and actors were split into duos, trios, quartets, and solo artists who were asked to interact with different plants intuitively. The result was another five-minute video (shot and edited by Flowgardenz themselves) and an extended audio compilation made by Kazaryan on Soundcloud.

“Every team had a different set of plants to work with. We organised teams and placed the microphones to outline the space and set the light,” Flowgardenz explain. “The rest was improvisation: a series of five-minute sessions of still life and action within a two-hour timeframe for each team. We chose different kinds of plants and artists in order to see if it was nature or the performer that defined which sound would come out of each interaction.”

Flowgardenz went public in July 2018 as a duo, when Vova Vanenkov and Konstantin Bushmanov began offering their services to create plant-based set designs and sculptures for parties and events. Their vision of flora in the human world soon captured attention as intriguing and raw, their unrefined, unassuming approach standing in stark contrast with the cottage-core ideals of collective gardening and plant-inspired art on Instagram.

As members of a close-knit artistic community (Bushmanov has background in video production and art direction), it didn’t take long for Flowgardenz to secure a number of collaborations for music videos and fashion shows, building sets for pop stars Mirele and Kedr Livansky, followed by a collaboration with a Russian beauty outlet The Blueprint for Gucci. The duo has since opened up into a collective with a fluid structure, welcoming new collaborators to share their knowledge. The team now includes photographer and creative Andrey Kirsanov and stylist and costume designer Olesya Skaryna among others, all working closely on a number of projects. Current work in the pipeline ranges from a clothing line “STILL LIFE” EDITION FLOWGARDENZ + FACULTATIVE.WORKS KRUZHOK MOSCOW to scientific botanical expeditions and an eight-episode science-pop program about house plants with Gorky Film Studio and Facultative Works.