Temporary Expert

What Do Plants Have to Tell Us?


This “final project” is definitely more of a piece in the process than an end-all. It is a tank full of air cleaning plants (golden pothos, aloe vera, sansevieria) that are trying to promote their value in a way that humans understand, which is through monetary value. They have little LCD screens to display their messages. The plants in the tank are able to support one person, so based on an extremely generalized calculation, I determined that my plants were producing about $0.01 per hour.

full view

Presentation Slides

Presentation slides are here.


I branched into a lot of different areas while researching my original topic of air rights. Air and ownership is so related to so many aspects of our living, and the most common thread I found was the huge influence of money/economics on all systems relating to air (and other natural resources). These are my biggest takeaways from this process:

  • My research has reinforced the idea that individual people’s efforts through traditional means (recycling, being woke, etc) are tiny in changing a larger system. I don’t think we should stop doing these things! But, I do believe to act quickly we need to attain power instead of fighting against larger powers as regular citizens. Sorry, this one is cynical ):
  • On the other hand, I think as individual it’s not impossible to play into a system to fight the system - think Terry Tempest Williams! It just requires another way of thinking.
  • Learning about people buying into the potential of an empty space had me thinking about the value of what preserving negative or developed spaces. I want preservation to be viewed as something that rivals the value of development.


As far as the actual process itself, I wish that I had found a way to create more personal interest in my topic. I think I was interested in it more intellectually and lost steam at the end because I forgot to think about what I needed from the process. I also did WAY too much reading and thought experiments. I was so inundated with all the information that I didn’t make time for more physical, playful research. The biggest thing I would change is that I would do more field research because honestly New York is such a great setting for that.

I was actually most inspired talking to people who disagreed with me. I loved talking with my expert on environmental issues and she has a great wealth of knowledge, but I pretty much agreed with her on everything. When I talked to my economics/business experts who worked at big corporations, they had a completely different approach which forced me to consider a lot more perspectives than I would have otherwise sought out. Hearing their opinions on what art/media means in their world & day-to-day was so important.

The feedback I got on my project I think was to push it further with making a point. Nancy mentioned I needed to be more aggressive with how I was pushing my point forward. A tank of plants infiltrating and filtering an office space is indeed passive. I agree that I needed to play around with different voices that the plants could have. Plants are quietly in the back of many of our environment and I think Nancy’s mention of drawing people to trees in the park or somewhere more active would be an interesting next step to draw more attention.

Going forward, I’m going to incorporate more field research and experimentation into my process. I’m extremely glad I had this experience before going into thesis because this is the kick in the ass I needed to actually understand how I need to develop a creative process. Temporary Expert was very much so outside of my comfort zone. I felt like an interloper trying to do conceptual work for this class (maybe that’s the point of becoming a temporary expert?) & now I’m feeling more confident. I’m not sure how this project might move forward (haven’t had time to think about it), but I do think many of the concepts I’ve been thinking about will transfer into my future projects.

All of my references are here