Plant Room - Lloyd Godman 2006
an artist it is rewarding when a work created nearly 10
years ago offers a relevant dialogue today. In 1997, while
completing an MFA at RMIT I worked with Bromeliad plants using them for a series of installations. Bromeliads are
a family of epiphytic plants from South America. An epiphyte
is a plant that uses another plant for support but takes
no nourishment from it – they are the antithesis of
a parasite. In 1998 I installed a large collection of Bromeliad
plants in the boiler house or plant room of a local institution.
The plant room had three coal burning furnaces and I was
able to install the plants on one of the furnaces out of
operation. The concept behind the work was to play off incongruity
and contrast - the epiphytic plants and the parasitic coal
climate change, the Kyoto Protocol and CO2 dramatically
imposing on our lives, the intensity of context and meaning
in the work has grown in the intervening years.
Behind the occupation of space and time in any large city
complex, lies a constant we take for granted. As if an unseen
force holds each of these urban universes precisely in place,
environmental conditions remain magically stable. Pointing
towards the heavens, shiny steel and glass towers seduce
us; below the in the darkness of concrete catacombs or in
another distant location lies a mysterious machine. Directly
or indirectly the services or climate within our concrete
jungles are maintained by Plant rooms. In the presence of
a comfortable climate – we become unaware of their
existence, and so they become conveniently absent. Not only
are Plant rooms hidden from view but access to them by the
public is denied.
the synthesized stable climate in foyers, vestibules, atriums
and offices provide environments for décor plantings
of luxurious exotic plant species like orchids, lilies,
palms, and epiphytic bromeliads - perfect environments. But in contrast the planet's climate is in a state of entropy.
in the arcane chamber is a roar of fire as oxygen is consumed
with fuel to produce heat from stored non-renewable energy.
Coal or oil is consumed to provide the comfort level we
have come to expect. Plant rooms are the unseen engines
that drive the climatic conditions of our built environment.
As we go comfortably about our business in the synthetic
atmosphere, plant rooms provide a range of climatic conditions
we take for granted - heating- hot water, air conditioning,
ventilation, power, light etc. Clean, pure water magically
pours from cisterns while the waste is carried away out
of sight in a gurgle. Behind the veneer is a series of pipes,
ducts, wires, vents and drains.
Factories that produce our consumer goods demand even larger
plant rooms and services and consume ever more energy than
the fuels that drive these plant rooms can be traced back
to real plants with roots, trunks, branches and leaves,
great forests that once graced the surface of a much younger
earth. The elegant process of photosynthesis (where energy
from the sun is transformed by plants) created the vast
resource we now rely on for our energy needs. Coal and oil
are simply stores of energy from the sun. Fossil fuels created
by plants over eons of time would not exist without vast
tracts of forest. Our life style is decedent and parasitic
– it consumes fossil fuel reserves that took millions
of years for plants to create. It is an existence that infuses
the atmosphere with excessive amounts of carbon.
from air bubbles in ice cores indicates that the present
levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher now than they
have been for hundreds of thousands of years. Not just marginally
higher, but ten times higher than the highest levels recorded.
sudden awareness to reduce CO2 emissions, the Kyoto Protocol
and the carbon credits initiative are designed to reduce
the effects of CO2 and ultimately climate change. But to
blame the present climate-change crisis solely on rising
CO2 levels is mis-guided . To believe it can be rectified
with a scheme where certain nations with rapidly growing
carbon emissions are exempt, and the buying of carbon credits
is a convenient excuse for some members of humanity to continue
with environmental parasitic activities. The idea that if
we reduce CO2 levels the climate will self-correct and we
can continue as normal, does not take into account:
• the increasing devastation to the earth’s
• the demand for a higher standard of living for a
large percentage of the population
• the necessity for continued consumer growth that
underpins economic success.
the larger environment we inhabit, plants are crucial to
the stability of the climate - they create a sympathetic
environment that sustains life as we know it on earth.
are just beginning to realize how the great forests that
clothe areas of the earth in green are the plant rooms of
the planet. How they evolved to create an apposite atmosphere
and how they temper what would be an otherwise fierce and
impossible climate. For it is not only the distance from
the sun that gives earth its unique climate but the combination
of effects that plants both on land and sea have on the
environment. Without a sufficient area dedicated to plants,
the planet would simply become both too hot and too cold
for us to exist. During the day the heat of the sun would
become searing while during the darkness of night any heat
would escape and the land would quickly cool and freeze.
It can not be understated how important plants are to the
welfare of the planet – they should be treasured,
nurtured and protected.
Plants use CO2 to grow – Air containing carbon dioxide
and oxygen enters the plant through openings called stoma,
where it gets used in photosynthesis and respiration. Waste
oxygen produced by photosynthesis in the chlorenchyma cells
(parenchyma cells with chloroplasts) of the leaf interior
use the same openings to exit, thereby enriching the atmosphere
with oxygen and locking up carbon in the plants’ cellular
structure. Also, water vapor is released into the atmosphere
through these pores in a process called transpiration. With
the present abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere, plants have
responded by growing faster - there is evidence to suggest
the stoma in some plants has recently evolved to become
smaller. (in these cases, the stoma does not need to be
as large to gather the CO2 gas). This might appear to be
an ideal situation where the more CO2 we produce the faster
plants will work to soak it up, and the quicker we can exploit
them for further development. The reality is that in our
increasing demands on our green planet, we are asking a
shrinking plant room or engine to do an ever larger job.
It’s like asking a small family car to pull a huge
road train - every year the car gets smaller the train longer
and heavier. Interestingly as a means of conserving water Bromeliads are different to many other plants, they reverse the day night photosynthetic cycle taking in CO 2 at night and releasing oxygen.
fact remains that there has been too much deforestation
and too many emissions - the engine that drives the planet
is too small for the job we are expecting it to do. There
simply are not enough trees to credit for the carbon we
emit into the environment as a species.
change affects plants, and while some benefit from the change
allowing an extended geographical range, others suffer.
Climate changes are likely to subject all plants to a more
extreme range of conditions – heat, cold, drought,
flood, winds and salt. while it is admiral to plant as many
trees as possible, there is a huge difference between a
single plant isolated in a barren landscape and a plant
embedded in the rich ecosystem of a gigantic forest. The
forest creates its own climate – the single tree struggles
in an alien one..
solve the environmental problems we have created, we need
to evolve more like Bromeliads; we need to develop epiphytic
habits. Not only do we need to protect the remain parts
of the planets Plant room the machine that services our
atmosphere, but we need to extend the extent of our forests
and give the machine a larger engine.