From April 7 to May 14, 2020, サボテンとの会話 Conversation with a Cactus (2017), a film by Élise Florenty & Marcel Türkowsky, available online during the program Windows (18 rue du Château).
Conversation with a Cactus was originally screened during the collective exhibition IL PLEUT, TULIPE, on March 15, 2018 at Cinéma Palace Lumière, in Altkirch. On this occasion, we propagated a rumor that in the 1970s, a Japanese scientist by the name of Dr. Ken Hashimoto invented a machine to communicate with a cactus. We had distributed 46 hiragana ideograms—one of Japanese’s four scripts with katakana, rōmaji, and kanji—as invitations to the exhibition, colored cards whose design was created by Charles Mazé & Coline Sunier and directly inspired by Élise Florenty & Marcel Türkowsky’s film. In the exhibition we showed another film of theirs, Shadow-Machine, shot at the same time in Japan. For the three months that the exhibition lasted, Conversation with a Cactus maintained a kind of aura around us in spite of its physical absence.
Stuck in a dynamic that transformed this scientific fable into a news farce, Dr. Hashimoto explained how one simple incident had changed his life: “I was walking through a field of cacti. As I bent over to pick a flower bud, a cactus suddenly attacked me! It felt pain! I then realized that plants were animated beings. I researched how a plant’s consciousness could manifest itself. When a cactus feels emotion, the needle produces its voice.”
The 4D Meter Deluxe was thus invented. It could translate a cactus’s language and emotions into sound waves. A lie detector had been transformed into a device to communicate with the plant world. From truth-seeking to interspecies communication. This discovery, which became very popular in Japan and around the world through the publication of Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird’s The Secret Life Of Plants (1973), gave the cactus a planetary voice,* recognizing its subjectivity.
Élise Florenty & Marcel Türkowsky followed this rumor, visiting the places where Dr. Hashimoto’s research took place, exploring his laboratory and its surroundings. At the time Tokyo was overshadowed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and many spoke of the suspicious death of Masaki Iwaji, a Japanese TV reporter who had worked on the tragedy. In scientific publications, people observed mutations of butterfly wings due to radiation exposure.** Butterfly wings were the object of intense speculation. All of these rumors became intertwined in a strange relationship to truth, combining Dr. Hashimoto’s experiments with recent news.
This expansion of reality is precisely what we try to achieve—as artists, curators, mediators, publics—in a permanent dialogue with each other. The potential to communicate with a cactus relates back to a strong desire to address new interlocutors, to multiply the possibilities of language. To imagine a new interaction between cactus and human, to aim for horizontality between beings. Conversation with a Cactus allows us to see the manifold possibilities of establishing contact with our loved ones and to redefine our future relations with the living.
Remember: “We are all cactuses.”
Antoine Aupetit & Richard Neyroud
* 'Mrs. Hashimoto and Her Plants': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWRgaNV8s7w
** Atsuki Hiyama, Chiyo Nohara, Seira Kinjo, Wataru Taira, Shinichi Gima, Akira Tanahara & Joji M. Otaki, “The biological impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the pale grass blue butterfly,” Scientific Reports, Nature Research, last modified August 9, 2012, https://www.nature.com/articles/srep00570