Out of Season 2016, (detail), single channel projection, formatted for stereoscopic viewing with circular polarized glasses, silver screen, duration: 2.40min, 3D Microcomputed tomography rendered and animated in Drishti.


Erica Seccombe, Out of Season, 2016, stereoscopic projection installation. Created using Drishti

Artist X-rays germinating mungbeans in 4D for a immersive optical experience in response to environmental questions regarding the Anthropocene .

Have you ever thought about what a mung bean looks like from the inside when it germinates? The artist Erica Seccombe has, so she created an innovative and original work of art using frontier scientific technologies to capture a unique view of mung beans and alfalfa seeds sprouting. Projecting the resulting time-lapse data stereoscopically in cinematic 3D, the immersive installation Out of Season creates a translucent and mesmerizing experience as the ‘virtual’ seeds come to life. By creating a moment of intense self-reflection, this work connects an individual meaningfully to new ways of thinking about our relationship with nature.

Motivated to create Out of Season because of her own concerns for uncertainty for the future of the environment, the artist has stated, ‘I have been driven by the need to express through my practice, a response to the now.  Out of Season reflects the questions, concerns and themes relevant to my lifetime. I live in a techno-scientific society in an era of rapid environmental change.’

Out of Season has been developed as part of Erica’s PhD practice led research, Grow: experiencing nature in the fifth dimension undertaken at the ANU School of Art & Design in Canberra. Situated in Photography and Media Arts, the artist’s acquisition and visualization of 4D micro-X-ray Computed Tomography (4D micro-CT) was facilitated by the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics through CT Lab, and Vizlab in the ANU Supercomputer Facility and National Computational Infrastructure (NCI).

The datasets Erica has visualised of germinating seeds are not derived from fragmentary evidence or rendered through mesh framing techniques used in conventional computer generated imagery (CGI).  In contrast to conventional CGI imaging in which the object is simply bounded by a representation of the enclosing surface, 3D micro-X-ray Computed Tomography (3D micro-CT) records a fully three dimensional map of X-ray opacity throughout the entire volume of the object, with microscopic resolution. The system developed at ANU delivers a resolution of two microns, which is approximately 100 times the resolution of a medical CT instrument.

Erica’s proposal to germinate seeds with this technology was initiated through her own interests relating to her artistic practice. It follows Erica’s own pioneering adaptation and exploration of Drishti, an open source volumetric exploration software developed in Vizlab at the ANU, an innovation she has discussed as a TEDX speaker.

Erica has created Out of Season in order to incorporate her use of frontier science and technology to pose new questions and to contribute to relevant contemporary art discourses and environmental concerns. Researching the agricultural seeds she X-rayed in the laboratories, such as mung beans and alfalfa, led her to consider the impact of plant extinction, global food security issues and the concept of the Anthropocene in relation to her practice.

The Anthropocene is considered by scientists to be the new geological epoch encapsulating the quantitative shift in the relationship between humans and the global environment, and the role human activity has had on re-shaping the Earth’s geology and ecology. This is evidenced in the rapid extinction of plant and animal species, the melting of polar ice caps, glaciers and permafrost in the arctic regions, and the rising ocean temperatures, which generate unstable weather and unpredictable seasons. The serious implication of the Anthropocene is that humans are creating a new kind of environment that is not conducive to the support of life, not even our own.

The term which combines the Greek word for human, ‘anthropos,’ with the suffix ‘cene’, meaning new, was first published as a concept by Nobel Laureate Professor Paul Crutzen in 2000.[1] Professor Will Steffen from the ANU Climate Change Institute also writes extensively on the subject of the age of the Anthropocene, ‘a geological age of our own making.’ He discusses the now irrefutable scientific consensus around the proposition that the significant environmental challenges we face today have been induced by globalised human activity, and that the human impulse to dominate and exploit the Earth purely for our own purposes, is central to anthropocentric behaviour.

To further explore this concept, Erica spent two weeks as a visiting researcher at the Millennium Seed Bank which runs a global seed conservation program aiming to collect as many species of plants as possible before they become extinct.  This residency at the MSB, a state-of-the art facility on the Wakehurst Reserve in West Sussex, UK, allowed for a period of deep reflection about what the Anthropocene actually means to Erica and her practice. The frozen vaults of seeds at the MSB inspired her to think about seeds and their future viability, as she explains, ‘each seed embodies a potential future for survival. While at the MSB I made the connection that the dormant seeds in the vault contain all our hopes and anxiety for the future of our planet. We imagine them sprouting for the future, in the same way my work embodies that imaginative idea of life in continuum.’

While Out of Season offers no solutions, the artist hopes that it will inspire those who engage with it to reflect on our predicament, and perhaps participate in changes for a different kind of future than the one we are facing. By capturing and visualising the moment of germination from the exterior and interior of the seeds, this work of art brings to life phenomena that occurs beyond normal boundaries of human perception.

[1]     Paul. J. Crutzen, “Geology of mankind.” Nature, 415(6867), 2002, 23.