Canadian artist Wendy DesChene and American artist Jeff Schmuki began practicing as PlantBot Genetics in 2009. Raised with strong connections to the land around them, lent an easy beginning to their collaboration. Wendy is part indigenous people of Canada and her father built an off-grid cabin in the deep forest of Ontario where the family has spent several months every year since she was a toddler. Jeff was raised in the Sonora Desert of Arizona, an environment of extremes that nurtured a unique relationship to the fragile landscape and a respect for our limited natural resources. PlantBot Genetics create installations, interventions, and collaborations that combine activism, research, and social space fostering discussion and ecological awareness. By linking environmental issues to a diverse array of creative operations and tactics, DesChene + Schmuki extend the “knowledge of the moment”, demonstrates the fragile connection between the natural world and personal action, and offers simple, positive changes that can be enacted to increase sustainability — an activity that can be replicated long after the artists have moved on. PlantBot Genetics has exhibited and/or completed projects at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, The Pulitzer Foundation for Art in St Loius, the Goethe Institute of Cairo, Egypt, and the Bach Modern in Austria. In 2010, a significant contribution to their body of work was produced at the American Academy in Rome as visiting artists. Recent exhibitions include Foodture at the Elaine L Jacob Gallery of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and PlantBot Genetics: a Critical Contact Exhibition Series at the Cafritz Foundation Arts Center in Takoma Park, Maryland, and artist lectures and studio visits at Long Island University in Brookville, New York. Public projects while artists in residence at The Hafnarborg Art Center and Museum in Iceland and the McColl Center for the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina has gained invitations to the Landscape Laboratory at Buitenwerkplaats in the Netherlands, the KulttuuriKauppila Art Center in Il, Finland as well as St. Norbert College in Green Bay, Wisconsin where socially engaged environmental research was supported by an Art Works NEA grant.
Art has the potential to alter perception, foster dialogue, and inspire social change. Realizing my work is directly linked to the community, rigorous yet poetic projects are designed to include local citizenry. The Moth Project is a solar-powered community-based art event focusing on the importance of insects in our environment. Moths play a vital role in telling us more about the health of our environment. They are widespread, found in diverse habitats, and monitoring their numbers and ranges can give us vital clues to changes in our environment, such as the effects of farming practices, pesticides, air pollution and climate change. Working under the guise of PlantBot Genetics, Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki collaborate with various partners to focus on ecological literacy to empower audiences through art, citizen science, and backyard naturalism leading to new understandings, conversations, and civic action. Kaleidoscopic videos of moths and their wing patterns are projected onto off-grid reflective tents to attract both moths and curious people. The accompanying 18′ solar powered “ArtLab” acts as the stage for these public engagements providing hands-on activities and information on a broad range of environmental topics. The Moth Project underscores the decline of the pollinator populations and the need to preserve the environment while short-circuiting doomsday predictions. Jeff Schmuki shares simple steps that the community can take to nurture local pollinators, demonstrates the fragile connection between the natural world and personal action while offering simple, positive changes that can be enacted to increase sustainability — an activity that empowers the community long after the artist has moved on.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, destroyed my home and studio in Gulfport, Mississippi. Much was lost in the storm, and I spent the following four years as an artist-in-residence/visiting professor at various venues throughout the country including SFAI. It was during my time at SFAI I began investigations into ecology and collaboration that provided the foundation for the work created now.