With every Trump retweet, this lavender garden blooms
Artist Martin Roth is growing a retweet retreat, made up of 200 lavender plants kept under 16 fluorescent lights, each powered by a different Twitter account.
Titled “In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets”, Roth’s garden is directly influenced by the online activity of Donald Trump, Sean Spicer and media figures at Fox and CNN, among others.
The more retweets an account gets, the brighter their fluorescent light becomes, and therefore the more their lavender plants grow. “Through this system, the lavender plants become a kind of a perverse index of the politico-cultural climate, metamorphosing these conditions by their thriving,” a blurb for the work reads.
In an interview with Vice Creators, Roth explains that Donald Trump is, in a sense, at the centre of the garden, with “the ecosystem around him”. The piece is partly a response to the increasing militarisation of Trump Tower – close to the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, where the work is situated – but also the tenor of current political discourse. Lavender has a history of treatment for anxiety and depression, so linking its growth to the spread of fear on social media is both a rebuke and a balm.
The work is intended to be, first and foremost, a scent-based piece. As controversy spreads, the smell of the lavender grows stronger. While there is a meditative quality to the installation, therefore, it also comments on the way social media can affect our bodies in insidious, indiscernible ways. It reminds me of older attitudes towards disease, when it was thought “bad air” could cause illnesses. Knowing the scent of Roth’s installation has been cultivated by tweets makes those messages seem like airborne pathogens.
Of course, lavender doesn’t tend to have negative associations. So perhaps standing in Roth’s bunk will only make you think of your grandmother’s hand soap. Either way, it’s an effective way to draw a line between the affecting, but transient, worlds of social media and sensory experiences.
Images: Martin Roth