“If pollinators designed gardens, what would humans see?” That’s the question multi-disciplinary artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg spent much of lockdown researching, when she was asked to propose an artwork that brings attention to the plight of native pollinators for the Eden Project in Cornwall. “As I started to research pollinators and understand how they see and perceive the world, I ended up with this idea of creating a computer algorithm that could design the garden from their perspective,” she explains.
The result is Pollinator Pathmaker, a one-of-a-kind, 55-metre-long installation, which seeks to challenge who a garden is for and the role plants play. “Why should humans be at the centre of the story? It seemed to me to be contrary to the work to make something about pollinators when you can make something for them, especially as we are in this garden environment at Eden,” says Ginsberg.
Exploring the vital role of pollinators, Pollinator Pathmaker comprises 7,000 plants from 64 different species – many of which are blooming for the first time at Eden this summer. Ginsberg discovered that pollinators see colours and depth differently from us, they forage in myriad ways and they visit plants in different seasons to each other. “This garden contains a whole range of colours, plants and flowers because different pollinators see different colours,” she says. “It's not necessarily a tasteful human palette – it's pink and red and purple and all the different colours that different pollinators have evolved to be attracted to.”
This knowledge informed the algorithm, which was created with the help of Eden’s horticulturalists, pollinator experts, and an AI scientist. Each unique planting design is generated by the algorithm to support the greatest diversity of pollinators. “The algorithm needs to know which pollinators visit which plants so it can create a garden that supports all the different groups that we've identified – from bees to wasps to flies and beetles,” Ginsberg explains. “Piecing that together was really challenging, as there isn’t a defined list where you can be absolutely sure, say, that the swollen-thighed beetle visits this particular plant.”
In line with Ginsberg’s artistic practice, Pollinator Pathway uses technology to further explore the climate emergency, question our own impact and make us feel part of something with agency. The installation at Eden is just the beginning of what Ginsberg hopes will be a global art-led campaign to create the largest collective climate-positive artwork. Further public gardens are planned including the Serpentine Edition Garden in London and the Light Art Space (LAS) Edition Garden in Berlin later this year. “Pollinator Pathmaker has the transformative agency to both inspire and empower its audiences,” says Eden’s senior curator Misha Curson. “Technology, nature, human empathy and restorative activism all contribute to the material and aesthetic poetry of the artwork,” she adds.
The algorithmic tool is free for anyone to use online: simply select the size and conditions of your garden and a design is generated with a one-off edition of the artwork created for you. “Every garden planted – from back yard to windowsill to museum grounds – is a living artwork, designed and tended with empathy for the tastes of pollinators, not ours.”
With designs catering to these vital species rather than humans, it begs the question of whether the outcome is beautiful? “Hopefully it’s beautiful to them,” says Ginsberg. “This question of taste is really interesting. Do other organisms experience beauty? No idea. But ultimately it's an aesthetic experience for these other organisms – for the plants and the pollinators – they're all feeding, eating and having sex.”
Interview by Andie Cusick.
Photographs courtesy of the Eden Project.
Artwork from top: Preparatory sketch by the artist, 2020. © Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Pollinator Pathmaker, Digital renderings of Eden Project Edition Garden 1, 2021. Originally commissioned by the Eden Project and funded by Garfield Weston Foundation. Additional founding supporters Gaia Art Foundation and collaborators Google Arts & Culture.