This week in Barcelona, a string quartet played to a full house of plants.
The 10-minute concert was put on to reinforce how important art, music and nature are as life opens again across Europe.
It was a weird and brilliant idea to give out all the tickets not to people but to plants who after the concert were shipped off to hospitals across Barcelona. The photo above and the concert itself were seen not only by millions of people but also by untold numbers of plants who happened to be close to their owners’ computer screens. Listen to the applause at the end. It’s blended with the rustle of leaves.
The critics called this the best of pandemic performance art.
The creator, Spanish conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia, said: “Nature has crept forward to occupy the spaces we have ceded. Can we broaden our empathy?…. Let’s start by using art and music and inviting nature into a great concert hall.”
But I saw and heard something very different.
To join me, I’ll ask you to shift your view of this experience completely.
Ask yourself as I did: What if the concert was not about us at all?
What if it was about the plants?
We’re all viewing those plants as just so much dead weight, marginally sentient placeholders for people, which is who music is really, always and only for.
But what if that cute Bougainvillea in the third row was actually listening to what she heard? And that well-dressed Majesty Palm couple and their daughters in the Royal Box at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. They all seemed to be leaning in. And did you spot that Giant White Bird of Paradise humming along to the Puccini?
Plants used to be at the bottom rung in the hierarchy of humans and animals and…things.
Flora, not fauna.
But that view, that plants don’t have feelings, don’t feel pain and can’t think is as outdated as the view that animals don’t have feelings, don’t feel pain and can’t think.
In fact, we know now that view is ridiculous. For heaven’s sake, dogs can smell cancer and possibly COVID-19. Hummingbirds have episodic memories like us. And dolphins can “display culture”, again like us.
But plants? Really?
I remember back in the 70s The Secret Life of Plants was published. It sold zillions and was mocked by critics.
Then in 2015, the German forester Peter Wohlleben wrote The Hidden Life of Trees. It sold zillions and wasn’t mocked. Wohlleben claims that trees are social animals, perhaps even more than we are. They also have the capacity to communicate with – and heal – other trees.
I interviewed Wohlleben when he spoke at the Toronto Public Library a couple of years back
As he told us: “Every tree is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover.”
Gosh, that sounds like the very people who would have gone to this very concert in Barcelona.
Are plants trees?
But those 2,292 seats in the opera house could just as easily have been occupied by small trees instead of big plants.
Perhaps next time.