Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey


Artist statment from Paradise Now Exhibition:

We are exploring the capacity of grass to record complex photographic images through the production of chlorophyll. The equivalent of the tonal range in a black-and-white photograph is produced in the yellow and green shades of living grass. Although these organic "photographs" are exhibited in a fresh state for a short time, excessive light or lack of it eventually corrupts the visibility of the image. (continued below)

Sunbathers, 2000
Photosynthetic "photograph" on grass
dimensions variable
Our inquiry into how to "fix" these transient images has brought us close involvement with genetics through research with scientists at IGER (Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research) in Wales. These scientists have developed a grass that keeps its green color even under stress. In a naturally occurring variant of grass, they identified a gene for an enzyme that degrades the green pigment chlorophyll, and by modulating the expression of this gene, they were able to alter the grassís aging behavior and even stop it altogether. Through a plant breeding program they have introduced this trait, coined a stay-green, into a rye grass. The application of this grass in our work has subsequently led us to grow photographic canvases and then dry them. While the green blades retain their chlorophyll much more effectively than regular grass, the effects of other processes, such as oxidative bleaching, gradually occur and over time contribute to an irreversible loss of image.
The artistsí participation in this exhibition is made possible by the support of NESTA (National Endowment of Science, Technology and Art, UK).
Source: http://www.geneart.org/ackroyd2.htm    



Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey have collaborated since 1990. "After observing the pale outline created by a ladder left on a lawn for a few days, the duo decided to make sod into a photographic medium."[7]

Heather Ackroyd's has worked in sculpture, visual and performance art. Multidisciplinary work with focus on processes of growth and transformation, striving to articulate a relationship between performance and visual art.[1] Dan Harvey has worked primarily in sculpture since 1980 and often uses found objects where the effects of nature can be seen. He places these within "intimate tableaux of implied narratives to do with transience, alchemy and decay. " Slate is a principle material in much of his work. The scale moves from very small intimate pieces to large landscape designs.[1]

Their collaborative work includes installation, sculpture, landscape design, photography, performance, film and frequently reflects both architectural and scientific concerns. Another conceptual focus is time and visibility.[4]


"In the greater body of our artwork we play with many materials exploring processes of growth, transformation and decay, and we embrace the transience and ephemeral nature of our materials. Yet somehow the fragility of these chlorophyll apparitions urged us to make moves to preserve them longer."
"We can't recall the precise moment when we first articulated this desire to hold the image - conceptually, we can rationalise the move to preserve the photographic grass image for longer by saying it follows through the established process of photography of exposing, developing and then fixing the image."
"To talk about 'fixing' an image refers directly to the photographic process of stabilising the emergent picture. It is a word used as much now, as nearly 200 years ago, by the early pioneers of photography such as, Thomas Wedgewood, Humphrey Davy, Fox Talbot, the Niepce brothers, Daguerre, and Bayard, to name but a few. "

Extracts from a lecture delivered by the artists through The Royal Society in conjunction with the Creating Sparks Festival, September 2001 http://www.artsadmin.co.uk/artists/ah/photosynthesistext.html#Living%20Skins


Scientific Collaboration and Technique of Photosynthetic Works

  • The photosensitive surface is a living mini-lawn
  • It is placed in a giant darkroom
  • The mini-lawn is exposed light of a 400-W projector bulb passing through a negative for prolonged periods
  • The varying densities of the negative's lighter and darker areas produce a full range of midtones by controlling the light levels in each area.
  • The light produces green, or darker tones, lack of light produces lighter (yellow) tones
  • In 1997, the artists began a collaboration with IGER scientists, Prof Howard Thomas and Dr Helen Ougham, who are studying the biochemistry behind how chlorophyll breaks down when leaves start to age and turn yellow. (IGER = Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth,UK). This process has both an economic and cultural significance as it is resonsible for the making crops less productive and for the colors seen at the changing of the seasons. [5]
  • They are collaborating on the further development of a stay-green variety of grass that had been known since the 1960s.
  • The scientists have modified the expression of the genes responsible for the senescence of the green leaves, resisting the tendency to yellow. 
  • The application of this grass in the artist's work has significantly retained the visibility of the image and in response to their collaboration the scientists have developed methods for non-invasive analysis of events going on in the cells of senescing leaf tissue, through the use of hyper-spectral imaging technology. [4].
  • This is an example of a collaboration where the artists are changing the way the scientists work. A recent quote:

    “We were all dumbstruck when we saw it — such colors and textures,” says Helen Ougham, a biochemist at IGER. “We’re not used to looking at grass growing, like they do, on a canvas. We started thinking about what images can tell us.”
         Usually researchers grind plants up and extract pigments in order to study them. But they lose all of the variations in the plant, both over time and over the surface of the leaves, and destroy the plants in the process.
         Inspired by Ackroyd and Harvey’s work, the Wales team developed a new imaging technique that monitors pigment levels without damaging plants. Still in the developmental stages, the technique could some day be used to quickly scan plants and learn about their health.
         “We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing now if it weren’t for [Ackroyd and Harvey],” says Ougham.[5]


Additional works:


Photosynthesis (Testament)
8m x 8m


Photo: the artists

Commissioned by Year of the Photo 98 and Hull Time Based Arts and grown in situ in a disused Salvation Army Citadel, Hull

  Taking the intimacy of the portrait and magnifying it to a monumental scale, bears witness to the passing of time. Imprinted within the thousands of blades of growing grass, the face became a living landscape. The image emerged as the blades of grass matured into a vibrant state and then slowly faded as the grass died over the course of the exhibition.[6]

Tiger Grass Coat

Photo: the artists


The Grass Coat was first displayed on the catwalk at the London Hippodrome as part of the Lynx Anti-Fur campaign, re-grown for an environmental fashion show in Dublin, 1995, and most recently displayed at Sotheby's, London, as part of the Outmoded Decorative Arts exhibition, 2001.

Working on the principle of denying light to areas of growing grass, the tiger striped effect was achieved by a stencilling method. Where the light fell, the grass produced chlorophyll, where it remained in shade it stayed a bright yellow colour.[6]


Tiger Skin
400cm x 300cm

Photo: the artists

  Presented by the Serpentine Gallery for Heatwave 2
Stripes imprinted through process of stencilling. The living grass skin was stretched taut and suspended.[6]

Mother and Child

4 x 6-ft

  The original 4 x 6-ft photograph of Mother and Child consists of neither computer pixels nor grains of silver halide, but blades of a new grass variety created with the help of hyperspectral imaging. © Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey/Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1998.[7]



The Ephemeral in Focus: an Artistic and Scientific Exploration into the Futitive Nature of Green, Focusing on Chlorophyll in the Leaves of Grass: http://www.iger.bbsrc.ac.uk/igerweb/cellbiol/highlights/ephemeral/overview.htm

  The Ephermeral in Focus http://www.asci.org/ArtSci2001/ackroyd1.html
  Additional photographic photosynthesis works: http://www.artsadmin.co.uk/artists/ah/photosynthesistext.html#Tiger%20Grass%20Coat

Hyperspectral Imaging Leads to New Art Form, Greener Lawns