The Critical Gardening Collective is a Montreal-based collective of 4 artists and researchers who gathered in 2019 to develop the Toward a Fourth Nature project. This research-creation project proposes to create cybryonts- symbioses between mosses (bryophytes), sculptures, and microbial fuel cells, in short, creatures of the Anthropocene, as our way to problematize its very notions. Our ultimate goal, quite unrealistic today, is the production of closed systems of power and metabolic co-dependencies between living bipolar mosses and sculptures with the help of the microbial fuel cells. In the meantime, our long-term project is to create a bipolar moss garden at the Montreal Botanical Garden in 2025, cybernetically connected to the places where these mosses grow in the Northern and Southern circumpolar regions (i.e. Lapland in Finland, Patagonia in Chile and Nunavik in Québec).

Bipolar mosses show a disjunct distribution on Earth: they grow in high-latitudinal areas of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with or without small intermediate populations at higher elevations in the tropics. They have intrigued bryologists for a while, who can still hardly explain their sometime extreme disjointed distributions. Moreover, they do not know whether they will strive or die with the global warming of the poles. We are focusing on two main research questions: (1) what is the future of the bipolar bryophytes, in a time of global warming? And (2) What are, concretely, the possibilities of producing cybryonts? We will tackle these questions within a theoretical framework hybridizing Studies of Science and Technology (SST), Art, and critical making.

We firmly believe, as Tom Sherman famously put it in 1993, that “the finished work of art is a thing of the past” and even more when one is working with a living medium (as in the bioarts). Our collective chooses to engage in practices of ongoing experimental prototyping, not finished pieces as such. Moreover, in this era of supposedly greater awareness of environmental degradation caused by energy consumption, we will investigate the real costs (economic, social, and cultural) to the world of the materials we will use and consume in the production of our cybryonts.

“Bipolar” is the adjective of choice for our time—who isn’t, these days, alternatively over-enthused and depressed? We are wary of two kinds of “green trends” we encounter too often: the catastrophist and the solutionist. We know that the ecological catastrophe is coming, but we do not see any point in the gloom for the sake of gloom; we care for technology, and yet we do not think that technology alone will solve the problem. We are bipolar with respect to today’s ecological catastrophe and its potential technological fixes. Above all, we would love for people to contemplate, ponder, and reconsider the Anthropocene. What better than a moss garden to do that—think Saihō-ji garden, near Kyoto.