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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 & Design in Breda. At the moment, the garden, with its mown lawn and neatly maintained plants, appears ‘perfect’. However, the garden is not utilized as a learning environment. It could be a learning environment for students and staff across disciplines, for humans and non-humans alike. What can creative practices learn from nature? Can the garden be used as an open lab, where we learn beyond traditional disciplines? Can materials for new projects grow in the garden? Can the garden enhance ecological awareness?

  • Project by propaedeutic student Lotte Beuger. Mapping the garden’s pont and it’s inhabitant, the micro-organism.

The research will first focus on understanding the garden as a living sensor. We need to understanding our role as actors in the network of the garden, and to map this situation, before we begin to utilize it. What do the actors – living materials – as part of a network (considered as part of Latour’s 2005 Actor Network Theory) communicate about (non-)human behaviour? What do they reveal about our relationships with our environment? This mapping is done by zooming in on the living material in the garden. It connects to Caradt’s Out Of Tune: Living With Cacophonyarrow , a research project which explores how sound and vibration impact the growth of mycelium, and has discovered that the appearance of mycelial networks can change in response to their changed acoustic circumstances.

Following this preliminary phase, the research deploys the design practice of researcher and tutor Annemarie Piscaer, who is fascinated by dust – her starting-point for mapping the garden. Settled dust particles can communicate diverse narratives. Piscaer, in collaboration with Iris de Kievith, previously initiated the Smogware project, a tableware glazed with air pollution. Smogware revealed that dust particles gathered from different locations can vary in material composition. Dust that was collected from near the Tata Steel plant in Wijk aan Zee, for example, gave rise to a different glaze from that of the dust collected near a Rotterdam ring-road. This is because of the higher concentration of heavy metals in the composition of the Wijk aan Zee sample. Through these differences in composition, different dusts can tell stories of their origins.

This research connects to the New Design & Attitudes propaedeutic programme, on which Annemarie is a tutor. It aims to initiate a learning living laboratory by connecting the tutor’s research interests to the students’ projects, and by inviting students to work in the garden.

The research project, The Garden as a Living Learning Lab, a Living Sensor. The Garden that Sees, Smells, and Hears, contributes to curriculum innovation and will generate new knowledge. Knowledge will be transferred from the research group to the students and tutors of the New Design & Attitudes programme.

The Garden that Sees, Smells and Hears


March 2021 – ongoing

Principle investigator
Annemarie Piscaer

Other researchers involved
Wasabii NG

Elvin Karana

Avans University of Applied Sciences

St. Joost School of Art & Design

Avans University of Applied Sciences

‘I am dust! People were created from the same particles as all other elements. Everything was created from dust and will return to dust. ’

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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