Organized by Meghan Moe Beitiks with Sabri Reed and Liliya LifanovaSansevieria trifasciata is an epic performer. Commonly known as "snake plant" or "mother in law’s tongue," the plant is ubiquitous and unique at the same time. Over the course of its career, it has gone for months without water, made fiber from its own body, and collaborated with NASA to remove toxins like benzene and formaldehyde from the very air we breathe. In Sansevieria trifasciata’s seminal work, "The Bedroom Plant," it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night.
Sansevieria trifasciata performed "The Plant is Present" at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s New Blood Performance Festival, November 19th and 20th, 2011, and at the First International Science Art Conference in Moscow, Russia, from April 3-5, 2012.
The plant sat silently while visitors took turns sitting in a chair opposite it, staying in its presence for as long as they liked. All guests were photographed, and asked to record their experience in a comment book. Responses ranged from "I felt a connection to the plant and was able to live in the moment" to "It was awkward" to "So good! I loved every second of it!" to "Marina was exactly as interesting." Many visitors expressed a new appreciation for the work of the plant, a sense of respect, and a change in perspective. Some expressed a desire to find a "snake plant" of their own and keep it in their homes.
Visitors could also read a biography of the plant, explaining its achievements, and listen to a docent clarify parallels between the plant and the famous performance artist Marina Abramovich, whose 2010 work "The Artist is Present" at the New York MoMA garnered much publicity and acclaim. Organizer Meghan Moe Beitiks gave lectures on the performance and artistic career of the plant.
The question becomes: if we are willing as a public, to wait in line for hours to sit in the presence of a famous artist, what else could we be devoting our attention to? If the act of sitting silently with someone gives us a new appreciation for them, gives us a feeling of connection, of enlightenment, why not bestow that attention on something worthwhile—like the important ecological work of a common houseplant?
Photos by Joshua Slater, Carolina Gonzalez, Meghan Moe Beitiks, and Emerson Granillo. More information about the project and the full text of the comment book can be found at: www.meghanmoebeitiks.com.
Contributor Biography Meghan Moe Beitiks does ridiculous things with plants. In her performance work, she explores our relationship to the environment and its greater meaning to pollution, bioremediation, and ecological catastrophe. She can be seen jogging with plants, researching uranium-reducing bacteria, and flinging oyster mushroom mycelium over fences. She has a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she focused on acting, playwriting, and scenic design. Following those studies, she spent a year and a half studying Theater and Scenography in Riga, Latvia on a Fulbright Student Fellowship, focusing on the meaning of place in site-specific work. The past several years she has worked as a freelance theater artist and technician in the San Francisco Bay Area, working in institutions like the Magic Theater as well as out on the street in her own site-specific work. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.