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Contemporary Circadian Rhythms

By Zoe Theodore

Awake, Awake is a multi-media installation by Jesse Dyer as part of ACCA’s 2015 Startups Program. The installation is comprised of two living oxalis plants displayed underneath artificial lights within a darkened exhibition space. Each plant is subject to LED lights that stimulate the plants growth at alternating hour-long intervals. Throughout the week-long exhibition, the light system not only illuminates the specimens, it also feeds the plants by emitting a light spectrum that fuels photosynthesis. Dyer uses the plants’ plight metaphorically to raise questions about artificial environments and the resulted effects of over stimulation, fragmentation and heightened stress on the contemporary human condition.

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Jesse Dyer, Awake, Awake 2015. Courtesy the artist

Dyer’s Awake, Awake communicates the changes to the contemporary experience of time as a result of the development of communication networks. Throughout the exhibition the plants routinely perform their circadian rhythm – the physical and behavioural changes to the plant that transpires over a 24-hour cycle. This cycle, whilst mainly considered to be endogenously generated, also responds to light and darkness in the organism’s environment. Hence, in Awake, Awake, the artificial lights disrupt the natural rhythm of the oxalis and asks them to perform its cycle at a rapid hourly rate. The performativity of the plants raises questions about time and the potential changes inflicted on social and private time due to the disruption of our natural daily rhythm. Our social understanding of time was once measured by the earth’s rotation of the sun and disseminated through clocks and calendars. In contemporary society, however, incessant email reminders, status updates, international Skype calls and alternative work schedules fragment and distort our experience of time.

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Jesse Dyer, Awake, Awake 2015. Courtesy the artist

Duration and ephemerality also inform Dyer’s work, as the installation exists temporally, with no form of documentation recording the plants resulted behaviour under the stress of the lights. As the plants perform small, subtle movements of bowing and bending towards and away from the artificial lights, there is no possibility to experience these changes as a totalising sequence. This sequence becomes fleeting and unknown, as the plants are in a state of flux, changing constantly in their journey of survival. The installation further explores this association with the unknown as the potentiality of the plants growth and survival amongst an existence of relentless stimulation is left to adaptation.

Through its use of non-human forms, Awake, Awake, explores a less anthropocentric view of existence. Moreover, the installation is an allegorical representation of the current Anthropecene epoch, which refers to the influence of human activities on the Earth’s ecosystems. Despite this perceived criticality, Awake, Awake isn’t presented as a recoil against artificiality or contemporary urbanism, but instead proposes a more holistic and diverse appreciation for the equanimity of non-human knowledge and experience.

Zoe Theodore is an emerging writer, producer and curator. She is ACCA’s intern on the Startups project.

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