Sonia Sobrino Ralston is a designer and researcher.

Sonia Sobrino Ralston is a designer and researcher.

Plants: Informational Entities Over Time

Aftermath: Data Through Design, BRIC Gallery, Brooklyn, USA (2024)

In 2017, a large white oak believed to be over 200 years old—affectionately known as the Granny Oak—fell in Pelham Bay Park. In the clearing where the oak once stood, trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants have responded to the hole left in the canopy. Multiflora rosa, an invasive species, has since taken over the site making native species few and far between. This installation made visible years of landscape change in Pelham Bay Park using the entitation maps originally piloted in the park in 1986 to demonstrate the informational potential of plants as a marker of time, and by extension, political investment.

Focusing on entitation unit 1001 where the Granny Oak stood, the project developed a series of high-fidelity botanical models of the 18 plants listed in the catalogue to depict what it looked like at the time of a 2007 site survey—shown on the center screen. Intermixed with LIDAR data, the animations on the left attempt to reconstruct the plant community based on these data sources. On the right, a video depicting its current state uses additional LIDAR data collected by the designer in 2024, showing the fallen tree not as a living plant, but one since memorialized in the points of a dataset and buried under a thick layer of invasive rose bush. Viewers were encouraged to explore documentation of the plant models in the flat files below, as well as through dead and living samples of white oak trees and roses from the site. By showing how the plants community changes over time, viewers are encouraged to think more deeply about plants as a form of living sensor or data point, and consider them as records for the aftermath of ecological and political change in the city. Datasets used included the NYC Entitation Map, and topobathymetric LIDAR Data from New York State.

Thank you to Data Through Design (organizers),  BRIC Gallery (exhibition space), and Sebastian Bach (photography). The exhibition as a whole was featured in Ouvert Magazine, with an interview by Ginny Lee titled “Plants as Living Sensors and Records of Aftermath with Sonia Sobrino Ralston.”

 Plant Entitation Unit 1001 in 2007 at the time of the survey, featuring the Granny Oak at the centre among LIDAR pointclouds.

Plant Entitation Unit 1001 in 2024, adjusted with hand-made LIDAR scans of the fallen Granny Oak and an adjusted LIDAR scan with its canopy removed. Invasive Multiflora rose populates the site. 

Pages from the 2007 and 1986 Species Entitation Study by the City of New York. Entitation studies developed a catalogue of vegetation zones through aerial surveys (left), then ground-truthed the list by surveying each site. Entitation unit 1001 includes the species, or entities, within the zone.

Plants from within the file cabinet, featured on the floor of the exhibition.

Last updated: May 2024

The background changes according to the diurnal cycles of Boston, MA.