'Phonosynthesis' (2014) is a work developed by Chi Po-Hao during a 2014 Summer Sessions residency at V2_.


Chi Po-Hao in front of his work at Test_Lab Summer Sessions

Energy transformation occurs all around us all the time, yet we are hardly ever aware of it. Inspired by the ability of plants to convert light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis, the installation Phonosynthesis converts kinetic energy into chemical energy through a chain of energy conversions: A wind-up torch transforms kinetic energy into light, a solar panel transforms this light into sound, and finally this sound is transformed into chemical energy inside the plants.


[Longer text]

Phonosynthesis is an artwork driven by scientific facts. In the physical world, manpower, light, electricity and sound are all forms of energy. However, the transformation of energy is an abstract concept for people since the border in the conversion process is not so obvious in most situations. My approach in Phonosynthesis is to reproduce the process of energy conversion through artificial tools and physical rules. The energy generated from the viewer’s movements is transformed into light, electricity and sound, and is connected with the impressions of life experience and applications of technology. By giving the viewer the experience of sensing the changes in the space with different kinds of energy and perceptual feedbacks, I try to break stereotypes, explore the dynamic relations between space, people and technology.

The installation is placed in a dark space, contains light sources, solar panels and hanging houseplants. The viewer can power the bulb with a dynamo and has the ability to adjust the intensity and direction of the light, and then see the solar panel and hanging pot plant subsequently. At the same time, the light object is transformed into sounds and makes the pot plant vibrate as an exciter. Human power first turns into light energy, and the solar panel transform the light objects into electric currents through the photovoltaic effect, vibrating the surface transducer and then make the pot plant become an exciter. As a result, the conversion process becomes perceptible and reflects the variations in the space. I want to give the audience an experience that how energy is transformed from one to another with both audible and visible events. The experience gives the audience another perspective on the the flow of energy, and then causes the viewer to imagine and perceive their own body. 

Why use a solar panel instead of light resistors or other sensors? 

I chose a solar panel as the converter to transform the frequencies of light objects into sound. The texture of the sound is determined by the intensity of light and the specifications of the solar panel. The motivation is to convert the light into the sound directly, instead of using the parameters of the light, for example, intensity or frequency, to control the external sound source like a trigger or midi controller. I make the light work as the raw material to produce the sound.

Why use houseplants as exciters?

Using houseplants as exciters is another important element of the work. The house plants create a moment for apprehension, a moment at which the interiority of light and sound, is framed in a visible procession towards the conversion of energy. Generally, plants are not often recognized as a material capable of interiority- with an autonomous desire that could be accessible to humankind. Still, we know that plants seek light, and are active in so far as they grow, interact with the resources in the environment, for example, light and water. When the viewer interacts with the installation, his behavior affects the plant by altering the light and vibration, meanwhile, the plant absorbs the water in the pot and it changes the resonance. Houseplants are a way of enclosing nature, organizing it, and preserving it. They make ecology accessible and domestic. Plants, as a medium, have an ability to shift the work through various paradigms and intertexts, from fine art to science, to personal and intimate sphere.


This work was developed as part of the Summer Sessions 2014 in a co-production of National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media. 

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