“The flower longs with its petals
and thought descends upon the flower.”
Alexander Vvedensky, The Gray Notebook (1932)
Orchidées is a study of the genus Orchidaceae, developed in collaboration with the scientific department of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle Paris, botanical photographer Thomas Balaÿ, light artist Nathalie Junod Ponsard and geneticists Barbara Gravendeel (Naturalis) and Aoife O’Driscoll. The work is dedicated to cellist Kate Ellis.
The Orchidaceae (commonly known as orchids) form the world’s most diverse family of flowering plant, endemic to almost every geographical terrain found on Earth – from tropical rainforest to arid desert, from marshy boglands to Antarctic tundra. Driven by a formal investigation into the extreme genetic mutability of orchid DNA, Orchidées inquires what this extraordinary responsiveness to environmental conditions can teach us about our own survival in a rapidly changing world with its ever-increasingly complex web of ecological crisis.
The compositional translation process explores the gene expressions controlling flower architecture, specifically perianth and labellum formation, rendering these aspects simultaneously visible and audible to an audience. The four nucleobases that compose the orchid’s DNA - Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), Thymine (T) and Adenine (A), are mapped to the open strings of the cello (C-C, G-G, T-D, A-A), with the string harmonics expressing base pairs (C-G, T-A) gene sequences, forming a unique signature for one of each of five individual species. The translation of genetic and musical architecture into the visual realm triangulates with large-format photographic images by Thomas Balaÿ and light sculpture by Nathalie Junod Ponsard.
At a formal level, the work also explores the evolution of the angiosperms over >250 million years and the cyclical flowering processes (seed, germination, growth, reproduction, pollination) which are conserved across all species. Using found sounds, field recordings and live processing, the generative tape part functions as the ecosystem within which the orchids are nested.