Understory is an interactive installation that was born in La Selva Biological Field Station (Sarapiquí, Costa Rica) as part as the Wild Interfaces class of the Interaction Design Programme of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.
We collected recordings of our field notes during a 24-hour ethogram study of a Gavilán tree (Pentaclethra macroloba) and explore different ways to interact with the tree.**
When visitors approach Understory, they can interact with dangling ‘flower pods’, which contain a connected speaker and a unique recording assigned to a moment of the 24-hour study (e.g. 4:13am).
The brightness of flower pods fade in sync with an ambient call, attracting visitors to hear the stories of the Gavilán.
The recordings use a mix of ambient and written field notes, observing different parts of the tree (canopy, trunk, root system) and interactions (e.g. leaf opening and closing). Visitors are transported inside, below, on top of the Gavilán tree, exploring the worlds contained within one living thing.
The installation seeks to show how the Gavilan tree’s ecosystem is a microcosm of the greater La Selva ecosystem, and build interfaces between humans and trees, and humans and La Selva. The team hopes that by listening closely visitors feel the vitality of nature and remember their role in regenerating the planet’s ecosystems.
Click here to see the result of the project.
The project was chosen as part of the exhibition "Les pieds sur terre", an event hosted by the Alliance Française, Costa Rica. This activity wanted to focus on the relationship between human beings, tech and nature.
This was a great opportunity for the project to grow and evolve from its early prototype version to an immersive experience curated by Jos Auzende . This time, Understory went from an outdoor space to an indoor space, so a huge challenge was to create the atmosphere around what was going to be the central piece: the hanging pods. Another thing to take into consideration was the fact that this time it had to resist to everyday use and manipulation.
Also, with Understory being showcased at their gallery space, the Alliance Française inaugurated the New Gallery of Digital Arts and Technology.
As a natural response to presenting the project in a gallery space, the collective Curanderas born. Curanderas is a feminist art and design collective that creates work that brings to light the undeniable wisdom of the earth, using life-centered processes. They focus on the relationship between nature and technology and explore ways to mediate these two forces in a symbiotic way. Technology augments human “nature,” and often mirrors physics and natural forces. Simultaneously, nature is also technology itself.
Curanderas is composed of Jennifer Cob, Karla Ramona Umaña Hernández, and Mia Pond, three designers who met while studying at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design in Costa Rica. After spending an auspicious, sleepless 24 hours deep in the tropical rainforest and under a Gavilán tree, they plotted and planned to start a design collective. The tree continues to grow as does their shared design practice, Curanderas.
**Pentaclethra macroloba is one of the most pervasive tree species in the rainforest. Colloquially referred to as a “Gavilán” tree, the species has a unique light sensitivity as its leaves open and close with sunrise and sunset.