Todd Gilens: Discourse on shade

What does the shade of understory *look like* from the point of view of a a sprouting plant?

This question provides a starting point for the latest project by Todd Gilens. Called “Shade,” it’s on view through January 2013 as part of the Natural Discourse exhibition at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

Todd has created a series of large-scale public artworks in which the perspective and habitat of the viewer collide with those of other species, including sprats at Stockholm University and butterflies on the streets of San Francisco.

The recent botanical garden project turns a lath house into a space for dwelling on the effects of shade. Lath houses — or shade houses — are slatted structures that modulate temperature and moisture, simulating the effects of understory for the young plants housed inside. In Todd’s vision for the east face of this building, our perspective becomes that of the sprout.

I first saw Todd’s art at the Stockholm Resilience 2008 conference, which I followed remotely. We met soon after, and I recently had a chance to record him talking about his new work. “It seems to me that shade is a condition itself ,” he says. “It’s a combination of two extremes — and, in combining them, provides a unique condition where things can happen.”

Unfortunately, my video is itself a bit shady…


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