by Maja Kuzmanovic, Cocky Eek and 19 ArtScience students of The Royal Academy in Den Haag1)

If the future were a forest, what would the trees look like?

A Dinner Party

The seeds of a vegetal culture are served to be tasted, heard, smelled, touched and experienced. The tables are lined with fragile but responsive tableware: singing sprouts, humming soil, algorithmic trees, a slowly morphing floral painting, an absurdist audiobook and a machine transforming physical humans into digital plants. There are small gifts next to each table setting: boxes of seedballs with seeds collected from local seed-saving groups, lovingly rolled and dried over weeks. A multitude of complex, contradictory concepts are chopped, mixed, boiled and roasted into vegetal dishes. The research is there to be savoured and digested rather than analysed and critiqued. The stories are diffused by the researchers, then absorbed by visitors. The lighting is subdued and jittery, as whirring motors project leafy shadows on the dining room walls. Glimpses of an alternate reality where plants and humans became interchangeable.

After dinner, it all turns into compost.

Recipes can be found on: project_groworld_recipes_korzo

MATING DANCE OF PRIMAEVAL SOUPS

by the groWorld research group

A duo of soups dedicated to all things vegetal; spiced pulses and root vegetables

Exercise One: Arrival

When beginning a new research project or any other collective endeavour, each person brings their collected baggage of anticipations, personal histories, emotions coloured by recent events and peculiar ways of dealing with them. Everyone comes into the room after doing something else – whether riding a bike on a busy street, having a fight with their parents, or sharing a delicious breakfast with friends. Whatever it is, past experiences and future expectations will necessarily colour the experience of the here and now. It might help to acknowledge where you came from an how you feel at the moment. This exercise is meant to allow the group to “arrive”.

Stand in a circle. Begin shaking your hands, then your arms, feet, legs and head. Try to shake out all the tension from your limbs. Visualise that you are shaking off all the thoughts and emotions that you brought with you into the room. Shake off your worries and expectations about the project at hand. As everything falls from your shoulders and through your fingertips, feel how your mind is clearing and your body is becoming lighter. Allow yourself to arrive.

Look around you and say hello to your fellow researchers. Remind yourself that you are embarking on a journey together and that you might need each other along the way.

Welcome to the here and the now.

Sit down and relax.

TRYING TO GROW

by Arjen Zuidgeest

Mixed grains and seed bread baked in an alternative oven, fertilised with sprout-infested butter

Exercise Two: Check-in, introductions

Going round the circle hearing participants' names and interests tends to be a tedious process for groups larger than 3-4 people. Why not introduce each person and connect them to the research topic in a more playful way?

Take a few minutes to choose 3–5 words that describe yourself, then ask yourself: If you were a plant, what plant would you be? Write each word and the name of the plant on a separate Post-It. Don't think about it too much, simply write down what comes to mind.

The facilitator puts a large sheet of paper on the wall. After everyone is finished writing, each person comes to the wall, says their name, what plant they think they are, and the 3–5 words describing their personality. They stick the plant Post-It on the paper surrounded by their personality attributes.

The result should look like a field of flowers, each flower with a name of the plant written in the middle and the plants' characteristics as its petals.

FOREST COASTER

by Clara Lozano Carrasc

Roasted Zucchini swirls, with a surprise

Exercise Three: Mindfulness of the Mint

(or: when you can't run away observe, perceive and adapt)

Sit in a circle. In the middle of the circle there is a mint plant in a pot. The facilitator picks up the mint and walks around the circle. Each person carefully plucks a leaf (reminding themselves that the plant is a living being). Once everyone has a leaf, the facilitator begins the exercise.

I invite you to take the leaf and place it in your palm. Have a good long look at it: what do you see? The shades of green, the rough veiny texture, the difference between its top and underside…

After a few minutes of contemplation, take the leaf between your fingers and touch it. First very gently, feeling the subtle changes of texture on the edges and the surfaces of the leaf. Then press a little harder, squeezing the juices out of the cells, making the texture moist… Explore the surfaces. Press and roll, rotate and stroke…

When you feel you've touched enough, bring the leaf to your ear and listen. What happens when you press it, fold it, or tear it a bit? What do you hear? Little crackling noises as the cells break, or the sound of your skin rubbing against the leaf's surface?

Next bring the leaf under your nose and smell. Can you smell the green freshness of the chlorophyl or the pungency of the minty oils? What else can you discover?

Finally, put the leaf against your lips, on your tongue, between your teeth. What can you taste? Is it bitter, refreshing, slightly salty from the sweat of your palms? Roll the leaf on your tongue, bite and chew it and see how its temperature and texture change, becoming warmer, gooey and liquid as it mixes with your saliva.

After you've finished, swallow the leaf mindfully and remind yourself of the nourishment it provides: the fibres, the vitamins and essential oils all of which will be slowly dissolved in your stomach and sent through your blood and all your cells. Feel your body opening up to welcome the leaf into its tissues.

Breathe.

At the end of the exercise, have a short round of reflection about the depth and breadth of an experience in which you engage all your senses. What happens when you stay in one spot without running away, when all you can do is perceive and adapt, like a plant?

SEEDBALLS

a tiny alternative to a supermarket

by Gaby Felten, Thijs van Teijlingen, Loes Treffers and Katarina Jancovicova

Spicy pumpkin balls in a dukkah crust

Exercise Four: What bubbles up?

Before delving into a research (of any flavour) it can help to get a sense of the gut feelings that exist in the group – the intuitive, subconscious answers that might already be there, without thinking or knowing much about the subject.

The facilitator writes down the core question(s) of the research and reads them out loud: What could a vegetal culture be like?

Walk around the room for a few minutes in different directions and speeds while reminding yourself of the questions and seeing what comes into your head, what bubbles up to the surface of your mind.

After a few minutes the facilitator invites the participants to write down a few words/concepts that they encountered while walking (use Post-Its or other sticky papers).

In a “popcorn” order (whoever feels like stepping up and describing what they came up with) add all the concepts to a large piece of paper and cluster them into related topics.

The resulting diagram should give a sense of the intuitive answers to the core question. This should be left on the wall as a reminder throughout the project.

GROWING FLOW

by Ludmila Rodrigues and Daniel Berio

Fractal broccoli plunged in sweet-and-sour sauces

Exercise Five: Creating an atmosphere

(or: an image says more than a thousand words)

In order to get a collective sense of the moods and atmospheres the participants would like to create, it can help to make quick-and-dirty moodboards in response to the core question. To make the moodboards, printed images (or computers with more than one printer), cutting knives and tape/glue/pins should be available.

Break into small groups. For a few minutes discuss how you would visualise the atmosphere of a “vegetal culture”. List existing movies, artworks, natural or artificial phenomena that evoke the desired mood for you. Discuss how you would visualise the atmosphere – which colours, shapes, media, materials, textures, movements would you use? This discussion shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes.

After you have a collective sense of the mood, each participant can search for images to visualise it. This can take 15–20 minutes. Collect all the images on one table, take a big piece of paper and make a collage with the available images. After 10–15 minutes the groups come together to view and discuss everyone's moodboards.

Hang the moodboards on the walls and keep them up for the duration of the project. This helps create an ambient sense of the atmosphere you're trying to shape.

PLANT-HUMAN

by Samantha Groesbeek and Heayoung Yang

Salt-and-pepper tofu soldiers on a bed of leaves and herbs

Exercise Six: Open Space on Vegetal Culture

After a few days of individual research into topics related to vegetal culture, many ideas can surface. It helps the creative process to bring these ideas into the group to see how the collective reacts to them. Some ideas might immediately resonate, others not (which doesn't mean that they're not good ideas, it just means that others don't connect with them, or not yet). The goal of the Open Space session is not to have individual ideas compete, but to create a few shared ideas that work for this group at this time.

At this point it is helpful to leave your egos to rest outside the room and to go with the flow.

The facilitator divides the room into at least three workspaces and names them (we used three pots of herbs to visually distinguish the spaces: mint, oregano, and wormwood). If applicable, there can be workspaces outside of the main room. The facilitator draws up a scheduling board with time slots of approximately 30 minutes per workspace and invites participants to propose a topic and a format for a session. They then write it on a Post-It with their name and choose a time and a workspace. The format can be anything from a discussion to a walk or a prototyping session: whatever will engage others and help develop the idea further. The topic should help answer one of the three Vegetal Culture Open Space Questions:

  • Why work with or learn from plants?
  • What would a plant-inspired culture be like?
  • How would you design a story about a vegetal culture in the physical spaces of daily life?

How you conduct and participate in the session is your own responsibility. It is up to each of you to make the most out of the Open Space session. To guide you through the process there are five principles and one law:

Principles:

  • Whoever comes is the right person
  • Whenever it starts it's the right time
  • Wherever it happens, it's the right place
  • Whatever happens, it's the only thing that could have happened
  • When it's over it's over

Law:

  • The Law of the two feet (If you aren't learning or contributing, go elsewhere. It is your right and responsibility to make the most of your time.)

Once all sessions have been posted on the scheduling board, the hosts step forward and briefly present the what they're planning to do, and others sign up to participate. When it is time, the hosts and participants go to their chosen workspaces and start their sessions. At the end of the session the host writes one to three main points/conclusions and posts them on the scheduling board. The facilitator keeps track of time and assures that everyone knows what to do after the end of each session.

At the end of the day, the group comes together to share their findings, discuss them and distill ideas for a few possible projects. It might happen that people are too tired to distill the ideas. In this case don't force it, but schedule a follow-up session where the conclusions from Open Space are translated into project ideas.

Make a diagram with the chosen ideas. The result should look like a constellation.

Add your name to the constellation. Position yourself closer or further away from an idea, depending on how drawn you feel to it, how much it resonates with what you'd like to do.

The resulting diagram should give a visual sense of most prominent ideas in the group and the people interested in them.

ALFA GARDEN

by Falco Pols and Gerrit-Jan Scheepers

Potato mountains on a lemon lake; mushroom soil

Exercise Seven: Vegetal Culture World Café

A few project ideas have been distilled through the Open Space exercise. They can be seen on the wall, a constellation where the ideas are stars and names of the people are planets orbiting the stars.

In the World Café the goal is to give everyone a chance to develop their ideas further, as well as allow collective ownership of the ideas to emerge.

The facilitator places circular working tables around the room. The number of tables corresponds to the number of project ideas. Each table is marked with the name of one of the ideas. The facilitator explains the World Café format to the participants and invites a few people to become “table hosts” or moderators, who will take notes and report at the end of the World Café (we assigned table hosts beforehand, to minimise the time spent deciding who will do what). Each table host choses one table/idea and remains there throughout the World Café.

The World Café consists of three rounds of 20 minutes each. Each round is a discussion about one question. All tables discuss the same question but focuses on a different project idea. The facilitator reminds the participants of the project ideas the group has chosen. At the end of the round everyone except for the table host gets up and changes tables.

You are invited to join one of the tables. The facilitator poses the first question:

What's the story?

The table hosts initiate a discussion attempting to find answers to the question related to one of the project ideas. After 20 minutes the facilitator invites the participants to change tables. Table hosts remain seated and summarise the discussion for the newcomers. When everyone finds a new place the facilitator poses the second question:

What's the experience?

Table hosts briefly summarise the discussion from the previous round and starts the conversation about the experience. After 20 minutes all participants except the table hosts change places again, and table hosts summarise discussions as previously.

Facilitator poses the last question:

What's the essence?

Table hosts summarise discussions from the two previous rounds and work with the new groups to find the essence of the project ideas.

At the end of the three rounds the facilitator invites table hosts to present project ideas and their answers to the three World Café questions. Finally, the facilitator summarises all ideas as answers to the questions (e.g. “The essence of project A is…” “From this essence the story emerges about…” “The story can be experienced through…”)

Hold a short discussion about the feasibility and impact of the proposed ideas.

At the end of this exercise your project ideas should be sufficiently fleshed out for the participants to know which projects they would like to work on. At the end of the day, go back to the constellation of project ideas and see if your name is positioned next to the project(s) that still resonate most with what you'd like to do. If not, move your name to a new position.

SEMICIRCLE

by Marloes van Son

Freshly blended green elixir served with a botanical shadow play

Exercise Eight: Minimum effort, maximum impact

With the essence, story and experience of one another's projects in mind, it is beneficial to get from the concept to a prototype as quickly as possible, in order to test the validity and feasibility of the ideas in practice.

In small groups, work with one of the ideas to design the project in its simplest possible form, using a minimum of resources (time, effort, finances, people…), while keeping as close to the essence, the story and the experience as possible. Sketch out a design that you could prototype in one week. By the end of the week you should be able to test the prototype with an audience.

After a couple of hours the whole group comes together to discuss each others' proposals. After a discussion each group refines their designs and plans the prototyping phase.

At the end of this exercise, rudimentary sketches of the first prototypes should be completed and the groups can proceed to implement them.

MIND THE

by Walid Wardak and André Cavalheiro

Hanging garden of nuts and berries

Exercise Nine: Needs and offers

After the first prototypes have been created and tested in the group (if you want you can invite someone external with no prior knowledge to give feedback as well), a new iteration of design and production commences. This phase is longer and requires more commitment from the members of each group. At this point it is also clear what skills are necessary for each project. This exercise allows the participants to offer their skills and resources and voice their needs so that gaps can be found and filled.

Each participant is invited to think about what they want to offer and what they need from the project or the group. Write each need and offer on a separate Post-It. The facilitator invites the participants to present their needs and offers one by one and place them on a board next to project names, or in a common pool of skills and resources to be shared between the projects.

At the end of the exercise there should be a map of people and skills attached to specific projects and working in between projects. You should stress that it is crucial to have people function as “pollinators” or “glue” between projects. It should be clearer who is willing to do what, so that teams can be formed accordingly. Each team can proceed to refine their designs and proceed to the production phase.

WHO SAYS WHAT?!

by Eveline Klop and Yaprak Sayar

Flaming fruity delight

Exercise Ten: Zoom out

In the middle of the production phase, as everyone is beginning to get lost in the details, it is time to take a short break and “zoom out” to the original question: what could a vegetal culture be like? This exercise can cause some tension, as it can be seen as quite abstract and irrelevant to the tasks at hand, so the session shouldn't last longer than 20–30 minutes. It is meant to briefly remind people of the big picture, before they get into the final production sprint…

The facilitator introduces the idea behind the exercise: a vegetal culture is one whole made out of many heterogeneous elements. The diversity is what makes this culture resilient. However, in order for it to be considered one culture, there should be a few common principles shared by all elements/projects (e.g. in vegetal culture there is no waste; no monochrome colour; all energy is renewable; silence is valued over noise…).

Based on the projects you're working on, find one or two principles that are essential to your work, without which it would fall apart. What is the governing law in this work, without which it would be something different? Spend maximum 10 minutes discussing these principles in your teams, then write them on a large piece of paper and post them on the wall.

When all principles are up, the facilitator reads them out one after the other. The collected principles can be seen as this group's answers to the question “what could a vegetal culture be like”.

Projects should try to follow all of the vegetal culture principles, but exceptions are possible.

THE SQUARE ROOT

by Daniel Berio

Digestive liquorice tree, to take away

Exercise 11: Converge

Towards the end of the production phase, it helps to remind all groups that they are working on one research question, where the whole is larger than the sum of the individual projects.

Each group is invited to present their work to one another and at least one outsider (a practitioner in a related field, or a group of peers). The groups are invited to make brief 1–3 minute presentations and describe the essence of their work. After each presentation, there is a 5–10 minute feedback session. The focus of the feedback is on how well the project translates their research into design, as well as how the project relates to the original question and to the other projects.

If you haven't formed a group working between the projects to connect them into one whole, this is a good time to get a few people working on “the glue”. After the feedback sessions, a small group of volunteers comes together to design the format in which the group and the projects can be presented. Think about what the common threads are, what should be brought to the fore, where, when and for how long the results should be presented, who is the presentation meant for, etc.

When you have a sketch of the design, share your ideas with the group and get their feedback. Proceed to refine your design and produce the presentation (this might take a few iterations and discussions with the whole group). The format should emerge from the process, the projects and the people involved (we began wanting to design an ARN and ended up designing a dinner party).

At the end of production, you should end up with finished projects and an overall “container” (e.g. an open lab, exhibition, symposium, book, website or more experimental things like a dinner party or an ARN). Each individual project and the container should provide an experiential answer to your core question. You can present your findings in public if appropriate.

THE END

Exercise 12: Celebrate

At the end of the research, make sure you celebrate with everyone involved. The celebration can include your final presentation, but it doesn't have to. It can be public or not. The important thing is to let go of your individual successes and failures, of personal likes and dislikes, ambitions and disappointments. Take time to thank each other for the time spent together and to enjoy each others' company. Food and drinks always help lubricate the conversations and smooth out disputes.

Cheers!


1)
Daniel Berio, Clara Lozano Carrasco, Andre Cavalheiro, Mischa Daams, Gaby Felten, Samantha Groesbeek, Katarina Jancovicova, Eveline Klop, Mik Maes, Falco Pols, Ludmila Rodrigues, Yaprak Sayar, Marloes van Son, Thijs van Teijlingen, Loes Treffers, Heayoung Yang, Arjen Zuidgeest, Walid Wardak and Gerrit-Jan Scheepers