Becoming Plant, Tenderpixel — London
"All states are in danger of acting injuriously upon one another. Nature is not something that can be judged from a particular point of view, just as the French Revolution cannot be judged according to its actors. Rather, nature can only be comprehended as a complex whole, and the human species, as one part of it, will ultimately progress towards a universal history that coincides with the teleology of nature."
— Yuk Hui
Becoming Plant is the third in a series of exhibitions entitled Hangover. Curated by Borbála Soós, the exhibition includes artists Victoria Adam, Julia Crabtree & William Evans, Ingela Ihrman, Paloma Proudfoot and André Romão. The series's concern is primarily ontological, studying existence: "Being able to exist on this planet is so evidently contingent on sharing it: as social beings as well as economic and ecological factors, our fate is bound to other entities. As we cohabit this place, our bodies pump the same air, water and nutrients and ultimately we use and become part of the same soil, (oil)... What we share with living creatures — be it bacterial, floral, fungal or animal — is that we live in the connections of complex systems created and used by other beings." In that sense, the exhibition Becoming Plant functions as a metaphor of the Anthropocene, and its artists explore the link between the natural and the artificial.
A few of the artists incorporate both manufactured materials and flora and fauna in their works. Proudfoot creates ceramic vessels filled with perishable or permutable materials such as masticated cherries, blueberries and bath salts, while Adam elevates discarded elements of into altar-like settings that draw you to take a better look: orange peels, olive and cherry pits, stems and a dirty napkin. Those works have the quality of vanitas still lives, while other objects have the quality of living and breathing organisms: Adam's sponge object doused in vinegar seems alive, while the "pond life" that is introduced by longtime collaborators Crabtree and Evans into colourful glass bulbs, which hang precariously over cords or are lodged into corners of the room, makes it seem like at any moment the works could start to move.
Ihrman re-enacts vegetable forms in performance: one waterlily costume from 2012 and one fir cone costume from 2015. A screen upstairs and downstairs show the documentation of two performances, creating an ambient tension for the viewer, in counterpoint to the material sculptural objects that dominate the space. Similarly, Romão's tiny poems, plastered variously around the space, frame the visit, as though they were legible whispers just a few breaths long: "And in the last days / there will still be no flowers / just rings, no fingers," each referring to a season, like memento mori of sorts.
The exhibition’s press release, in which the curator enters into an imaginary conversation with a plant about the quantity of flowering plants and trees versus humans on earth and its associated concerns, suggests that global governance and planetary stewardship might be able to be taught through the study of nonhuman entities. Such an approach accompanies what is considered the "ontological turn" in anthropology, in which many scholars focus on nature and the politics of the nonhuman. As Hui points out in his essay Cosmotechnics and Cosmopolitics, such a pluralism of ontologies "can only be realized by reflecting on the question of technology and the politics of technology." In the current crisis of the Anthropocene, we can only plea that those involved at a governmental scale will listen to the artists, thinkers and scientists working within the field of nonhuman studies.
The London gallery Tenderpixel showcases a diversity of creative positions within culture, economy and politics. Becoming Plant, runs until September 22, 2018. The gallery was founded in 2007 by Etan Ilfield, while the gallery program is run by director and curator Borbála Soós. The next exhibition series will focus on material concerns including solo projects by Florian Roithmay, Joana Escoval and Eva Fàbregas.
Tenderpixel – 8 Cecil Court, WC2N 4HE London – http://www.tenderpixel.com/
Head Image Julia Crabtree and William Evans, Clenched, 2018.
Photography Original&theCopy. Courtesy of the artists and Tenderpixel.
Cited Yuk Hui, "Cosmotechnics as Cosmopolitics," e-flux journal #86, november 2017.