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This biomechanical art installation gets stabby to the beat of a rhododendron’s electrical noise

David Bowen

Kinetic installation artist David Bowen has given a rhododendron a really big knife, the power to use it, and therefore, a degree of agency not enjoyed by the kingdom Plantae since the Cambrian era. His latest piece, Plant Machete, melds a woody shrub with an industrial robot arm and slaps a machete to the business end of it. On the other end, a series of electrical pickups monitor the bioelectrical signals generated by the plant.

“The system uses an open source microcontroller connected to the plant to read varying resistance signals across the plant’s leaves,” Bowen wrote. “Using custom software, these signals are mapped in real-time to the movements of the joints of the industrial robot holding a machete.”

The rhododendron is essentially acting as a rudimentary brain, Bowen argued. And given the arm’s non-stop hacking and slashing in the video above, that plant is working through some stuff.