Stefano Mancuso’s Nation of Plants

What if instead of a kingdom, plants were a nation? What if the set of principles their lives are built upon was compiled in a formal constitution? Would that help us (the humans) to accept them (the plants) for what they really are: living and sentient beings? This is what Italian neurobiologist and author Stefano Mancuso will attempt to instil in the mind of visitors to his upcoming exhibition in 2019, The Nation of Plants. Presented in the frame of Broken Nature XXII Triennale di Milano 2019, a major design and architecture event in Milan from March 1st to September 1st 2019, and under the management of Italian curator Paola Antonelli, Mancuso’s show promises to be ground-breaking.

Neurobiologist & author, Stefano Mancuso. Image supplied by Broken Nature XXII Triennale di Milano

While many nations are expected to take part in the XXII Triennale with pavilions demonstrating the technological, intellectual and philosophical progress of their populations, Mancuso’s idea is to develop a 1,000 square meter pavilion entirely ruled by plants. Adopting the concept of nation, the scientist suggests that plants too belong to a community that responds to complex collective mechanisms defined by a common language and territory and that we should grant them an institutional presence in order to give them a ‘voice’ which should be taken seriously.

But, why should we actually listen to plants? Do they even have something to ‘tell’ us?

Since the publication of his book, Brilliant Green, in 2015 in which he explained that plants are “social organisms, sophisticated and highly evolved like us”, Mancuso has been on a crusade against the ignorance that surrounds the world of plants – giving numerous lectures and TED talks and more recently an interview on a popular Italian TV show. Moreover, Mancuso has initiated several cultural projects such as The Florence Experiment (2018) – a public experiment developed in collaboration with the German artist Carsten Höller to study a possible artistic/scientific interaction between plants and humans – and Botanica (2017) – a touring event that merges the vegetal and the musical worlds. Such a public presence surely has helped him raising awareness about the importance of plants.

The Florence Experiment, 2018, by Stefano Mancuso. Image supplied.

The Nation of Plants represents a new phase of Mancuso’s research and will include the latest scientific discoveries in the field of plant cognition and botany, while demonstrating that the way most of us think about plants is biased by hundreds of years of misunderstandings and misconceptions.

It is by introducing the notion of nation – a term normally solely linked to the human population, which Mancuso has utilised to introduce us into the conversation. As a nation, a group of living beings cannot exist as an isolated entity – they have to establish a relationship, whether positive or negative, with other living beings.

The exhibition will also explore what a nation of humans inspired by the plant world could look like. According to Mancuso, looking at our societies from a plants point of view could help us question our anthropocentric society and its centralised and hierarchical system. A better understanding of plants could also help us rethink the way we communicate and connect with one another.

To paraphrase American ecologist Ian Thomas Baldwin, the time has probably come to “phytomorphise ourselves”.

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Article by Laura Drouet
. Based on an interview with Stefano Mancuso by Laura Drouet and Olivier Lacrouts

The Florence Experiment, 2018, by Stefano Mancuso. Image supplied
The Florence Experiment, 2018, by Stefano Mancuso. Image supplied