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The Garden that Sees, Smells, and Hears

Research Group: Biobased Art and Design

The Garden as a Living Learning Lab, a Living Sensor. The Garden that Sees, Smells, and Hears is a research project that aims to initiate a living learning laboratory in the garden of St. Joost School of Art and Design in Breda. It uses the garden as a model for learning.

In its present state, the garden of St. Joost Breda may appear classically ‘perfect’, its lawn and plants neatly mown and maintained. It stands separate from the academy’s central buildings: the garden functions merely as an aesthetic green surrounding, a place for pastime. In this respect, it is menial to our needs. This perspective, a human one, is arguably the dominant approach through which we relate to this ecosystem—defined as the sum of relationships. Living in the Anthropocene, dominant human (Western) cultures have situated humans at the centre of the ecosystem, or even above it, rather than inextricably entangled within and across it. As an alternative to this domination, Bruno Latour has described in Actor Network Theory how we might think of ourselves as actors among many other actors, enmeshed across scales. How might we develop dynamic, reciprocal relations with the ecosystem of this garden? How is learning an entity or actor in this ecosystem?

New visualizations are needed to change the dominant human perspective and move from an outside view to an inside view. To be, as Latour describes it, ‘earthbound’. Art and design education can provide these new visualizations, supporting future creatives to establish a practice from within. These practices are situated and have an understanding of a more-than-human view, wherein our position as humans cannot be seen as separate from our surroundings, but rather, as entangled and interrelated ’oddkin’ (a term coined by Donna Haraway in Staying with the Trouble [2016]). Through this position, we become family with other actors: the expected or (more often) the unexpected; the familiar and unfamiliar; known and unknown; logical and illogical; convenient and inconvenient.

Our research results are derived from our main case study: the Art and Interaction programme at St. Joost School of Art & Design in Breda. 25 students from a range of disciplines participated in an assignment, ‘Agency to the Actors’, creating group projects over a three-month period. Students were asked to map and visualize the garden’s different actors, their relations, and interactions. The students created a performative piece within the garden, exploring the perspectives and agencies of these actors.

This resulted in a pedagogical guide that was based on case studies outlining how a more-than-human view can be implemented in the design education curriculum. The document is intended as a transferable DIY guide and compass aimed to support way-finding, (un)learning, and different ways of relating. It sets out four principles: mapping invisible habitats; zooming in and out of nonhuman worlds; interaction as a flux between actors; and augmented senses for noticing nonhumans.

The Garden that Sees, Smells and Hears

March 2021 – ongoing

Principle investigator
Annemarie Piscaer

Elvin Karana

Avans University of Applied Sciences

St. Joost School of Art & Design

Avans University of Applied Sciences

‘Humans are atmospheric beings, particles, dust, in intimate cycles of exchange, actors with an incredible force.’

‘We need to become attuned actors with a deeper understanding of all the other particles.’


Annemarie Piscaer is a researcher in the Biobased Art and Design research group and tutor on the New Design and Attitudes study programme at St. Joost School of Art & Design.

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‘The dynamic relationship between humans and living artefacts will continue to evolve reciprocally with mutual care.’

Elvin Karana is Research Professor of Biobased Art and Design at the Avans and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, leading the research group Materializing Futures at TU/Delft. 

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Research Group: Biobased Art and Design

The research group Biobased Art and Design capitalises on the role of artistic practice in unlocking the unique potentials of living organisms for everyday materials and communicating these to a broader public. In doing so, the group aims to instigate and accelerate our widespread understanding, further development and usage of such materials. The group’s research approach encourages tangible interactions with the living organisms, such as algae, fungi, plants and bacteria, to explore and understand their unique qualities and constraints through diverse technical and creative methods taking artists, designers and scientists as equal and active partners in the material creation.

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