Life Cultivation


In utter darkness, a nonhuman voice enters with a slow spinning hum. Nasally registered, the incessant and spiraling signal develops several overtones, forming a chorus of one and many that disregards the question of singularity. In the background, a low stream of white noise comes in and out again, undulating as if phrased by a slow tide of night wind. There are still no images, but up ahead something creaks, it is straining to break, stretching to its limit until we hear the first crack, followed by a landslide of collapsing structures breaking all at once and falling into an incomprehensible mesh of reverberating echoes.


We do not know for sure what has collapsed, but judging from the texture, pitch and density of sound, it may very well be an avalanche of breaking bones, a complete shattering of the body; or it can be a frozen tree branch burdened by snow, breaking off from its tree trunk at the dawn of spring. Regardless of its true source, the sound suggests a dark vitality inherent to the process of destruction, a last howl as life before the body relinquishes itself to death.


In a world with no light, our ears see one and many things all at once. The material world, suggested by vibrations, contracts and expands beyond the question of objective truth. The act of seeing through hearing (with one’s ears and body) is a letting go of optical precision and a trusting of ambiguous sensations that invites one into a space of introspection.



With the sound of the gong, two full moons rise

Urging spirits to wander under their soft, diffused glow

Sharing confessions of melancholia

Between plant and human

In a dense field of sonic communion

With deep reverberations



I was struck by awe when I first witnessed the anima of a plant in a science lab. The plant was pulsing acute electromagnetic signals in response to being touched, cut, or threatened with fire. The pulsing data was like a digital interpretation of primitive vitality, artificial yet organic at the same time. As a natural life form, plants react to certain external stimuli in principle, yet its lyrical and varying response easily suggests signs of a feeling organism.


The passions of nature have long inspired admiration and fear from human beings. During my 2016 residency on Jeju Island, the magnificence of nature inspired many questions about the essence of its life forms and our relationship to it. The Jeju people negotiate with unpredictable strong winds, frequent typhoons, and changing moon tides that shape all aspects of living, providing both nourishment and dangers to life. To co-exist so directly with the forces of nature inspires much philosophizing, and despite our appreciation of animist narratives and modernist ideas of mind, body, soul, may we also reconsider natural life as first and foremost a material phenomena. From a materialist point of view, perhaps anima can be sensed in the pulsing of electromagnetic data, in the pumping of a heartbeat, in the howling of the wind--any form of movement that results from an innate striving for life.



Ask a human <-> Ask a plant

What are the forces that drive natural life?

What motivates us to grow, to blossom, to be passionate about our own existence?



Sheryl Cheung


Sheryl Cheung

Sheryl Cheung was raised in Taipei, New York, and Beijing. She works between sound, installation, and performance. Her current project uses plants as medium to question the motivations that drive us to innately prosper and persevere. Cheung has a background in abstract painting and choral music, and in her work today she continues to respond to the affects between multiple forces to create a field of energy flow. Her work has been shown internationally, including at Taipei Contemporary Art Center; Chronus Art Center, Shanghai; Osmosis Audiovisual Festival; Lacking Sound Festival; JOLT Arts Festival; and Jeju National Art Museum. Her performance Inland was nominated for Arte Laguna Art Prize in 2013.

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이중사고: 호모센티멘탈리스
On <Spectacular Vernacular>: Exhibition of Parsons & Charlesworth, 9/19/2016 - 1/2/2017 (PART II)
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