In the developed world, having enough food to eat every day is common enough that we hardly give a second thought to the crop fields that keep us all going. Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde wants to refocus the world on those life-saving plants and the farmers who cultivate them with his latest work, “GROW.”
Designed over the course of two years, the project is a reframing of agricultural landscape into what Roosegaard calls “agri-culture,” turning fields into living social artwork. Collaborating with scientists, Studio Roosegaard looked for answers to how cutting-edge light technologies could assist plants in growing more sustainably. The use of luminscence is already well established in greenhouses, and LED-lighted vertical gardens in urban spaces are also catching on, but artificial sunshine for outdoor crop development hasn’t yet taken root. The GROW venture experimented with “light recipes” to enhance rural plant growth.
Using a quiet leek field in the Dutch town of Lelystad for a test subject, Roosegaarde and his team installed red and blue solar-powered LEDs at specific angles to illuminate the plants at night. “We started to scan the plants with these wavelengths of light and then suddenly it started to dance,” he told Reuters. “You had these huge fields of fireflies …and the magic started kicking in. I think that’s when the worlds of science and art and design collide and enhance each other.”
The swaying pulses also provide the added perk of ultraviolet pest protection. “The project GROW is a fascinating project and supported by scientific research which shows specific light recipes can enhance growth and reduce pesticide use up to 50 percent,” says Professor and Doctor Jason Wargent, the Chief Science Officer at BioLumic and a leading expert on plant photobiology.
For Roosegaarde the project is a fantastic fusion of domains. “GROW is the dreamscape which shows the beauty of light and sustainability. Not as a utopia but as a protopia, improving step by step.”
Sponsored by Rabobank’s artist-in-residence program, GROW is “a call for enlightenment” in these coronavirus-darked times. “It is really inspiring to work with an artist like Daan Roosegaarde on how to grow a better world together,” says Wiebe Draijer, Rabobank’s Chairman of the Managing Board.
The art of the undertaking was especially gratifying for Roosegaard. “You know the 16th, 17th-century painters, the master painters, they were obsessed with the Dutch sky, the clouds and the light,” he said at his Rotterdam studio. “They made thousands of paintings, mastering the technology to paint it. I feel I’m part of that tradition. They painted on canvas and I have my 20,000 square meters of crop, of leek.”
The designer studied Fine Arts at Rotterdam’s Berlage Institute and founded Studio Roosegaarde in 2007. The firm has since become known for their synthesis of design and innovative technology, inventing what they call “the landscapes of the future.”
Due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, the GROW exhibit is currently available to the public only as a video on the studio website. However, once conditions are more amenable to crowds, the studio plans to recreate GROW in a massive 40-country tour. Each installation will spotlight a local crop with its own tailored dancing light recipe.