George Gessert

Kunst/Liv

When we select ornamental plants for the windowsill or garden, we are making what amount to aesthetic choices. These can have evolutionary consequences: plants with aesthetic characteristics that are favored tend to become more common, while plants with less favored characteristics become rare or disappear.

Kunst/Liv focuses on one kind of plant, the coleus. It is a common ornamental plant, grown for its colorful, patterned foliage. Coleuses are tropical plants that were first cultivated and selected in Indonesia. From there they were brought to Europe in the 19th century. Intensive breeding for color, pattern, and leaf forms soon followed. Today there are countless varients, with new ones almost constantly appearing. Kunst/Liv presents a sampling of these plants, and opportunities for people to express their likes and dislikes.


George Gessert was born in 1944 in Milwaukee, U.S.A. He studied at Berkeley, Madison, and The Art Students League. He began as a painter and printmaker. In the late 1970s he became interested in self-generating art, and since 1985 much of his work has focused on the overlap of art and genetics, particularly in the realm of plants. He has exhibited widely in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Since 1997 he has served as editor for art and biology for Leonardo. Mr. Gessert’s writings have appeared in numerous publications. He has received a Pushcart Prize, and been included in Best American Essays. Green Light was published by MIT Press in 2010. He is currently working on a book of short stories, some of them science fiction, about illness.

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