Plantbot Genetics Talk, Exhibit Start Conversations About Green Issues

Pensacola – Artists Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki run Plantbot Genetics, a parody of a biotech corporation that develops combinations of robots and plants. Their mission: Spark a discussion about the environment.

The Plantbot duo delivered a presentation recently at First City Art Center in downtown Pensacola.

The talk was part of STEAM2017, a five-week program of lectures, workshops and talks with artists and scientists sponsored by the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of West Florida. STEAM2017 explores how art adds to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math to examine issues related to the environment.

“We use silly singing and dancing plants to call attention to serious issues,” Schmuki said. “Humor is a way to engage people and get them to listen to your message.”

Schmuki and DesChene talked to the crowd of more than 100 people for about an hour. Topics ranged from planting native wildflowers and avoiding the use of chemical pesticides to helping counteract the declining bee population.

“It’s about being aware of what’s happening in your own backyard,” DesChene said.
She encouraged attendees to think of themselves as powerful.

“When it comes to environmental issues, people often get overwhelmed and think of the problems as too big, DesChene said. “That’s not true. Just think of the example of the water bottle.”

DesChene explained that during her lifetime, she has seen people go from not drinking bottled water at all during the 1970s to seeing it become ubiquitous during the 1980s.

“By the 1990s we were asking ourselves what we were going to do with all the plastic bottles. And now, today, we see that there are opportunities to recycle plastic bottles all over the place. So we have solved that problem over the course of 30 years.”

DesChene said the evolution of how we think of reusing water bottles illustrates that people can make a difference in the environment.

“We change as a society; we aren’t stuck with our bad habits,” she said. “As long as people are aware of the problems and talking about them, we have a chance to make a difference.”

Talking about the environment is the point of any Plantbot exhibit, which DesChene and Schmuki stage all over the country in their portable trailer. People who attend their talks can walk through the trailer and ask questions.

“We are all about starting a conversation,” Schmuki said.

When they are not presiding over a Plantbot exhibit out of their trailer, Schumki teaches ceramics at Georgia Southern University, and DesChene teaches painting and drawing at Auburn University.

“I like how they merge science and art to get people’s attention,” said Madi Heinze, a junior majoring in studio art at UWF who attended the talk at First City Arts Center.

Others who attended the talk commented about the usefulness of the information disseminated during the Plantbot presentation.

“I’m getting into gardening, and I want to do it in an environmentally friendly way,” said Cooper Dalrymple, a student at Pensacola State College. “It’s important to keep your eye out for information, that’s why I came to the presentation. It was interesting to hear about organic pesticides. I am growing rosemary, thyme, basil and cilantro and tomatoes in my little backyard garden, so I can use definitely use the tips I heard about tonight. I think it’s important to help out the environment in any way that you can.”