Artists Tinker With Grass & Photosynthesis to Create Huge Living Canvases (Video)

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CC BY-NC 2.0. Photo of Ackroyd/Harvey work by Andy Bowd via Flickr

Grass: humble and ubiquitous, it's something we don't think about much unless we're thinking of planting something different for low-maintenance drought-resistant lawns, or converting them into edible landscapes.

British artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey however, are elevating grass into something quite beautiful. They have been creating large-scale canvases of living grass, by tinkering with the natural growth process of this little plant in order to create impressive, photographic-like images. You can see how it's done in this video via Great Big Story:

The artists' secret is pretty simple: they first germinate grass seeds over a period of two weeks. When those seeds are well-sprouted, they then attach burlap onto a large canvas, and spread water paste all over its surface. The germinated grass seeds are spread over its entire surface.

Then they convert their studio into a photography darkroom of sorts, covering all the windows and setting up a light projector that can project photographic negatives of images they have taken. A photo negative is then projected onto this seed-covered surface, and left to grow over the next few weeks. The areas that receive the most light become lush and green, while the parts that grow in darkness are more yellowed and lighter-coloured. As Harvey explains:

Where the strongest light hits the grass it produces more of the chlorophyll, more of the green pigment, where there’s less light, it’s less green, and where there’s no light, it grows, but it’s etiolated and yellow. So you get the equivalent of a black and white photograph, but in tones of green and yellow.

The sizes of the works were something that the artists arrived at through trial and error -- a kind of experimentation to find the sweet spot for appreciating these living pixels, explains Ackroyd:

It's not sized in a gratuitous way. Actually, the resolution is really extraordinary and really phenomenal. If you equate a chlorophyll molecule with a pixel, then it's almost like we're getting many more pixels per square foot.

The amazing thing to realize is that if these living canvases are watered regularly and kept at low light levels, they can survive indefinitely. It's a lesson that ties into the two artists' efforts to use art to convey a simple but urgent message, says Ackroyd:

If you look at the last five years, mega-flooding scenarios and severe weather events are happening more frequently. The science is very clear and unambiguous about this. So our work embraces very much the process of change, around nature, around biodiversity laws, around climate change. It's not necessary a direct action or activism, but the pieces can be very poetic.
Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey

Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey/Video screen capture

In getting that idea of responsible environmental stewardship and the necessity of changing our self-destructive ways across, art is vital. Numbers and dry data by themselves won't get us to change -- we need to reimagine our collective, subconscious paradigm of what it means to be part of life on this planet, and art is that vital piece of the puzzle. For more, visit Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey.