Installations > Reverberations: A Quilted Room Installation for the Botanical Resonance Show in the Sachs Museum at the Missouri Botanical Garden

We don’t often think about the social and emotional lives of plants. What is even more overlooked is the auditory aspect of how plants collectively utilize sound to respond to stress and trauma. In Reverberations artist Brooke Erin Goldststein abstractly illustrates the feelings and purpose behind the sounds made by the two most common plants in our lives, grass and trees.

Through the use of immersive installation the viewer enters a bisected world half above and half below the soil’s surface. The right side of the gallery explores the screaming sound that grass makes when it is cut. Goldstein is fascinated by this occurrence mainly because of the synesthesia that happens as the smell of cut grass is actually an olfactory manifestation of the distressing scream that grass makes to signal to other grasses that they are in danger and a threat may be headed their way. This sound, smell and visual event fully represents the emotional life of grass and gives us an insight into how plants “feel”.

The left side of Reverberations takes the viewer below ground level to give them a window into the symbiotic fungal system that make tree roots able to communicate, commonly known as the “wood wide web”. Tree roots in the forest send each other sound waves and other signals through the fungi to warn others of disease, invasive insects, drought, etc. They also send each other resources such as moisture and nutrients to keep the community thriving. Scientists have found that tree roots not only talk but also listen. Specifically, trees can “hear” water and have their roots grow in the direction to find it. The individual yet interwoven relationship between these species opens up our understanding of nature as a societal collective exchanging ideas and resources for the betterment of their community.

In Reverberations there is no use of sound in the traditional sense. These auditory occurrences are visualized by the use of layered patchwork, fabric painting, quilting and radial composition. Goldstein makes use of optical effects so that the patrons of the Sachs Museum can see and feel the sound rather than hear it. Highlighting the emotional aspects of these plants lives as well as the multi sensory nature of how they talk, falls in line with the themes in Goldstein's greater body of work. For Goldstein, It means something that we don’t just look at the what and how but also the why of this type of communication. As the viewers immerse themselves in these two worlds, above and below the surface, they leave with a whole new understanding of the natural world, making them more sensitive to and excited by the greenery around them.

*Reverberations is currently up as part of the Botanical Resonance Show in the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum at the Missouri Botanical Garden from June 24th 2022 to March 31st 2023.

**All Photos by Virginia Harold