Cherry Blossoms

2022, interactive encounter with a plant-based digital life-form in AR

Supporting Developers: Selina Wernike & André Selmanagić

Plants have diverse senses, which they use purposefully to analyze their environment, communicate with it and influence it to their advantage. They therefore also possess what can be understood as intelligence. Their survival strategies are often so sophisticated that they have been the subject of scientific research for some time. However, it seems that many people are unaware of their remarkable abilities.

Cherry Blossom addresses this by enabling an encounter with a digital plant that partially simulates the sensory capabilities of its carbon-based role model. Through interaction and conversation, secrets about how plant life works and the amazing abilities of flora can be elicited from the digital model; attributes that are all too often hidden from humans in the physical world.

Both in this intention and in its clear, poetic aesthetic, the work of the photographer Rheinländer can be understood as a contemporary development of Blossfeldt’s plant studies of the early 20th century. “My plant documents are intended to help re-establish the connection with nature,” Blossfeldt wrote in his 1932 illustrated book Wundergarten der Natur (engl. Nature’s Garden of Wonders). While he pursued this goal with a view to plant structure in the medium of photography, Rheinländer uses augmented reality a century later to convey internal processes.

The result is a markerless application whose development was accompanied by many experiments to use the diverse sensor technology of the device: Communication with the cherry tree is not only via touch, but also via movement and a chat window with speech-to-text function. The plant responds purely textually.

Shaking the smartphone, for example, generates an impulse that is perceived by the plant via its root system, corresponding to the propagation of sound waves in the soil. Phototropism, the ability to perceive sunlight and align itself based on light, is simulated by the circulating sun and the branches moving in unison with it. In addition, the tree – if animated to do so – secretes scent molecules corresponding to particles that plants use to communicate with conspecifics and other living beings. By touching the “bubbles” surrounding the plant, additional information texts can be displayed. The encounter ends with a silent dissolution of the plant.

Text: Adrian Rheinländer and Maja Stark