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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Jan Clark
U.S. Botanic Garden

Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2005

IUB biologist opens science and art exhibit in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 19, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's not every day that a scientist opens an artistic exhibit on the Washington, D.C., Mall, but that's exactly what Indiana University Bloomington biologist Roger Hangarter will do on Oct. 27 at the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory (100 Maryland Ave. S.W., next to Capitol Hill).

sLowlife 1

Photo by: Roger Hangarter and Dennis DeHart

Chlorophyll's duality is illuminated by the "sLowlife" exhibit.

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"sLowlife" blends concepts of plant biology with mixed media. Hangarter created the current incarnation of the exhibit in collaboration with Buffalo State University artist Dennis Dehart, IU School of Music composer John Gibson, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Chicago Botanic Garden. The exhibit received additional support from the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Plant Biologists and Indiana University.

Hangarter, the immediate past-president of the American Society of Plant Biologists, has long made it a goal to show non-scientists that plants behave -- like animals, just... slower.

"I hope people will go away from the exhibit with a greater awareness of plants as living organisms after seeing how they are capable of sensing and responding to their surroundings," Hangarter said. "Our goal was to provide an experience that would be aesthetically interesting and enjoyable while being scientifically accurate and educational."

sLowlife 2

Photo by: Roger Hangarter

Where science and art meet, Arabidopsis can be the subject while an array of its genes forms the background.

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"sLowlife" was originally exhibited at the IU School of Fine Arts Gallery in October 2003. Video pieces that were originally displayed on borrowed equipment are now part of a robust exhibit built to withstand the rigors of a seven-year national tour.

But why the exhibit title? "The 'Lowlife' part of 'sLowlife' has multiple origins," Hangarter said. "One is that many people think of plants as lower life forms, a misunderstanding the exhibit hopes to dispel. Second, plants are rooted in the ground, so much of their substance is beneath the space humans typically experience as they move around. Also, Dennis DeHart often uses in his art objects that he finds low to the ground. Last, the 'slow' part of the title refers to the fact that plants essentially live in a different temporal universe that is not noticed in the context of human beings' frantic lives."

"sLowlife" isn't Hangarter's only foray into the creative arts. Earlier this month, he and Bloomington-based documentarian Samuel Orr won an award from the National Science Foundation and Science magazine for their film about Brood X periodical cicadas. The award honored the unique way the filmmakers presented complex concepts about the cicadas' life cycle. A QuickTime version of the video can be viewed at In addition, Hangarter's Web site "Plants-in-Motion" ( was featured in Science magazine's NetWatch in 2002 and received a MERLOT Classic Award for Biology in 2004.

"sLowlife" collaborator John Gibson is the assistant director of the IU Center for Electronic and Computer Music. A few mp3s he created for the exhibit can be heard by browsing his Web site, (select "music").

A special media tour of the exhibit will take place Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m. To attend the tour, please contact Jan Clark, U.S. Botanic Garden, at 202-226-7674 or

To speak with Hangarter, please contact David Bricker, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-9035 or