I caught this on the Red Eye —
SAIC student from Iran nominated for Cannes award SAIC student’s short film nominated for Cannes award It’s only been two years since Anahita Ghazvinizadeh moved from Iran to the U.S. to pursue a film-focused master’s in studio art at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, but the 23-year-old filmmaker already has racked up a nomination for the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Cinéfondation Prize.
“I was really surprised and very happy,” Ghazvinizadeh said. “We worked really hard on this film, but I wasn’t expecting that it would get into a great festival like Cannes.”
Ghazvinizadeh’s 21-minute short film, “Needle,” the story of a preteen girl getting her ears pierced, was one of 1,550 entries from 277 schools all over the world.
She said the nomination has been doubly rewarding because it recognizes the first film project that she completed in the U.S. after moving from Iran. Before “Needle,” Ghazvinizadeh had already completed a short film called “When the Kid was a Kid” and co-written a feature film, “Mourning,” in Iran, but “Needle” was the first project she made in the U.S. (read more)
Work by Jessica Taylor Caponigro.
Johalla Projects is located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.
Work by Jesse Butcher, James Green, and Christopher Meerdo.
Chicago Artists’ Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Shannon Kerrigan, Christopher Michlig, Patrick McDonough, Sarah Nishiura, Andrew Rigsby, Hans Sundquist and Stacia Yeapanis.
Hyde Park Art Center is located at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Reception Sunday, 3-5pm.
Work by Tim Brown and Rimas Simaitis.
Roots & Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Thomas Wolfe.
Chicago Art Department is located at 1932 S. Halsted St. Reception Friday, 6-10pm.
Guest post by Eric Asboe
My favorite pieces of art in my house were made by children — the volcano floor mat, the map of the United States with a Mason Dixon line to California, the drawing of a space shuttle with its top next to its base because the paper is too small to contain it. Some of my favorite and most meaningful art experiences have been with and through kids; no book has shaped me as much as my friend’s son who, while tschunk tschunk tschunking away at a typewriter, hitting only the space bar with no paper, was writing the world’s longest novel entitled Space. It is easy to say that children have not learned to say no to themselves, to self-censor the ideas they have or that they see down connections in their brains we have lost or that their ideas of perspective and coordination and correspondence are not as fixed as ours. Whatever the reason, we love the world children see and create because it is a world to which we think we no longer have access. The entrance to that world, however, may not be as far away as we believe it is.
Every first Saturday of the month, admission is free to the Walker Art Center with family oriented activities throughout the day. The activities not only make use of multiple areas of the museum, they are inspired by and derive from major exhibitions on view in the galleries. This month’s Free First Saturday, Some Assembly Required, was inspired by Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition The Autoconstrucción Suites, which explores assemblage, local, found materials, and “self-construction,” utilizing “improvised building materials and techniques” when “materials become available and necessity dictates.” Artist Eric Syvertson guided children through making bird’s-eye views of their ideal landscapes, the maps of their ultimately functional worlds. Children were also invited to continue building and adding to the autoconstrucción begun by the Walker Teen Art Council. The changing, expanding structure juxtaposed the teens’ collages with children’s drawings and minimalist inspired tape paintings. In the most living of the autoconstruccións at the Walker, the structure became a new space of creation with the entrance of each child. The works they left behind continued to shape the space into which others entered and altered for their own needs.
As I observed both activities, it was clear that the children were there for more than just making. They wanted to see more, to experience the works that the Walker and the artists that lead the activities do a wonderful job of integrating into their programming. I overheard one boy ask to see “abstract sculptures” after finishing the dog park on his map. One girl asked me where she could find Franz Kline. The Walker is not just shaping young makers; it is fostering people who see art as integral to their lives, encouraging people of all ages to take the museum back into the world. I was not surprised to hear a little boy ask his father when they could visit the “painting museum” again.
I live blocks from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and less than a block from the route of their annual May Day parade. In an overflowing abundance of sunny celebration, community togetherness, and integrated arts, the 39th annual May Day parade gathered hundreds of makers, performers, children, teens, adults, older adults, musicians, puppeteers, dancers, bicyclists, hula hoopers, and tens of thousands of spectators to celebrate the coming of growing things and the gathering of so many different people. The narrative of the parade, as adapted from Bread and Puppet Theater, demonstrated what happens when we poison the earth and what can result if we nurture our natural resources. The narrative was illustrated by giant, multi-person puppets, individual masks, and elaborate costumes of animals, humans, plants, polluters, and planters, but no story can accurately portray the power of the parade. The beautiful, masterful masks, puppets, costumes, and actions of the paraders shaped powerful messages through overarching scenes, layers of movement, and stirring music. The music and sound of the parade in particular evoked palpable emotional responses; despite the cheers of thousands of people, the individual paraders and marching bands formed ominous, foreboding cacophonies, deathly silences, and joyous outpourings that echoed throughout the crowds responses.
The most noticeable change during the parade was the transformation of the normally quiet, relatively disparate neighborhood into a temporary community. Residents invited strangers to join them on porches. Visitors shared chairs and blankets to squeeze in more people. Local businesses did not just sponsor the parade they participated, donning costumes and dancing along the route. The barriers between the parade, the parade route, the spectators, the neighborhood, and the visitors disappeared in the up and down migration of people, bicyclists, musicians, dancers, basketballers, business owners, hawkers, activists, animals, and balloons before, during, and after the parade. By the time the tall bike flanked giant bicycle powered barbeque/drum circle/party bus/open flame/empty air tank gong/cage match skate ramp started the parade, everyone welcomed it as an integral and normalized part of the community that had left everyday life behind to embrace the worlds of art, spectacle, celebration, and togetherness.
Maybe I love children’s art because it too is so much a natural part of who children are. They do not switch from being children to being artists to make something; their making is part of the continuum of childhood, the uninterrupted nature of their lives. I know and experience that those boundaries are artificial, imposed by me upon a world that is full of art, wonder, and discovery beyond my compartmentalized imagination. I am thankful for watching children make and play and for the times I can lose myself in the beauty of a sunny afternoon with raucous paraders. On to a summer free from boundaries.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.
There are about nine people in the world who can pull off a Clark Kent outfit – you know, the button-down business shirt that is unbuttoned to reveal a giant S. Christopher Kardambikis is one of those people. The Superman reference can point to a number of things: Christopher’s dashing good looks, his nerd-level interest in comics, and/or his weakness to Kryptonite.
While his solo artistic practice is an ever-evolving exploration into the higher realms of mythology and absurdity, his collaborations with other creative folk are consistently grounded in the community zeitgeist. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve RSVP’d “no” (because I was busy!) to the various happenings and events put on by Christopher and Co. From book binding parties to book fair receptions, his collaborative projects reveal a passionate interest in generously sharing and showcasing the wonderful work of various artists.
Jeff: I just drove down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and boy are my arms tired!
Chris: Wouldn’t it be your feet because you drive a Flintstones car?
J: Well the car that I rented was terrible. I’m not going to mention the brand, but I will never rent it again. Anyway, it’s funny that I’m in Los Angeles interviewing you when I am supposed to be covering the Bay Area for Bad at Sports. Why did I drive all the way here for you?
C: Because it’s warmer here and you like fire. The whole city is on fire right now.
J: Wait, are you serious?
C: It’s hot and dry. The city is full of fire. There’s a danger at every turn.
J: Yikes. There’s been a heat wave in San Francisco for the past week. You know why?
J: Because we’re preparing for your arrival! There it is – that’s how I segue you as a Los Angeles-based artist into my Bay Area-centric column (segue #1).
C: I’m pan-Californian. Southern California cannot contain me.
J: Before I ask you about what you will be doing in SF, what are you up to in LA these days?
C: Outside of working my day job, I’ve been collaborating with various artists on different publications. I’m so new to the city! It’s so big and I’m so small. It’s so expansive and I’m just trying to find my place here. LA is a very strange animal.
J: You moved up from San Diego. Any differences in the art scenes?
C: San Diego doesn’t have a huge art scene. A lot of what I was doing was centered around UC San Diego where I went to grad school and the various awesome spaces setup by alum of the program.
J: What brought you out to LA?
C: It seemed like the next logical step for me. While I was in grad school I was able to drive up to LA frequently and I got to know the city a bit and I liked what I saw of the art scene here. Many people I knew moved to Los Angeles – from San Diego and Pittsburgh, where I did my undergrad – so it seemed like a good support network. I’m not ready to leave California yet.
J: I have the same feelings about San Francisco. I should have moved back to New York after grad school, but I fell in love with California! Have the clichés of surfer life and pot smoking affected your work?
C: Ha, no. I mean, it’s Silver Lake – we’re so far from the beach. I can’t surf the LA River.
J: There’s a river here?
C: It’s really tiny.
J: Speaking of tiny (segue #2), your artwork is super detailed, super tiny pen strokes, super tiny lines – tiny tiny tiny.
C: The whole endeavor is diminutive.
Chris is distracted by a DVD of the film Fantastic Voyage on a table.
C: Fantastic Voyage!
J: What? What is that?
C: Five people in a ship are shrunk down and injected into the body of a patient who needs brain surgery.
J: Tiny! Tell everyone how this movie is super linked to what you do, because from the cover of the DVD case, I can clearly see the connection, at least aesthetically.
C: I’ve been looking at the history of science fiction – early Jules Verne as well as ideas that people have overturned, like debunked science. An interesting thing about Fantastic Voyage is how they’re constructing the sets as these incredibly abstracted versions of what the body looks like – what the respiratory system looks like, what the inner ear looks like, what the brain looks like. I wish movies looked like this now, where you can’t rely on computer graphics to make things look “realistic”. Here, there’s a trick to use material that is at hand to craft a mood or a real three-dimensional environment that has to be interacted with and is utterly transformative, like hanging cotton candy from the ceiling. It looks so lush! They’re crafting a visual language to deal with these environments – these shapes and colors that we can’t readily create.
J: Hearing you speak about their techniques makes me really curious to know what your techniques are when you’re figuring out how to create the environments and backgrounds in some of your work.
C: Think about Mundus Subterraneus. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe something with printed images and drawings that is pointing to a larger system that I can’t actually describe or show all at once in two dimensions. I’m trying to break apart an image-making process with the tools or the material that I have at hand.
J: What do you have at hand?
C: Well right now I don’t have much of anything, but in San Diego where I made that book, I was working with a large format printer and trying to make it function and operate more like a physical printing process like silkscreen.
J: What were you printing?
C: I was smashing together several reference images. I was looking at celestial maps. I was looking at the visual systems with which thinkers like Kepler and Kircher used to describe the interior of the Earth. I was using a lot of my own photography of the desert area around San Diego. I was using Photoshop to abstract all of this information, and then I would break apart the digital images in order to print the actual colors separately. Then I was trying to trick the machine to do something it’s not supposed to do.
We continue to have a lengthy discussion of the process.
J: Oh my God, that’s amazing!
C: Anyway, I didn’t break the printer, but there were a few instances where it looked a little hairy.
J: I want to focus on the “book” part. Why a book?
C: There are a few answers for this. Specifically, this is an accordion fold book. The amount of space it can take up varies. When the book is closed, it’s almost 2 feet by 3 feet with a spine that’s 1 inch.
J: That’s a big book!
C: And it gets bigger! Now we’re going in the opposite direction of Fantastic Voyage. When my book is open all the way, it’s 28 feet long and there’s print and drawn information on both sides, so you can’t ever see the full-thing all at once.
J: Chris, what’s your problem? Just make a normal book!
C: It functions as a normal book! Any viewer can pick up the book and move the pages around – you have to go through the experience with each turn of the page. You don’t see everything all at once – it’s not like an event horizon. And that’s one of the things I really like about artists’ books – it demands a more active engagement from the viewer. No matter what, everyone knows how to interact with a book. It makes the whole thing relatable as opposed to walking into a gallery where someone might be unfamiliar with the space or how the space functions. I’m an artist and sometimes when I walk into a gallery I don’t know what to do with myself. Artists’ books are immediately engaging even if the information is complex or dense.
J: Speaking of dense (segue #3), you are coming to San Francisco with a book that has like, ten thousand artists in it, right?
C: 70! Artists! Writers! Video and Film Makers! From all over the country!!
J: Tell me about the project. Wait, don’t. Let me copy and paste from the website right now.
According to recent scientific reports, there may be between 8 billion and 13 billion life bearing planets in our galaxy alone. With numbers like that we will certainly encounter living beings from outer space someday. When we do, what will they look like? What special parts will they have, and how will they “do it?” Will we find what they do sexy, incomprehensible or just plain gross? You can find the answers to these questions and more in Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities, an extraordinary 288 page, full color, book and 120 minute DVD encompassing art, writing and film.
Can you tell me about the collaborative process behind Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities?
C: The book is a collaborative effort between three of us: me, my former professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Suzie Silver, and Jasdeep Khaira. This project started almost four years ago. I was getting ready to go to grad school and Jasdeep and I were running an artist book publication project in Pittsburgh called Encyclopedia Destructica. Suzie pitched the idea of Strange Attractors to us. She had founded a blog called The Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality and wanted to work with us on a book project where we would prompt people to use the lens of science fiction to think about sexuality.
J: How did you find so many contributors to the book?
C: We started inviting people whose work we were familiar with through our combined and extended networks of creative friends. We encouraged people to pass it along to anyone they thought would be interested in it, as well as use it as an opportunity to contact people we didn’t know but whose work we enjoyed. It’s really humbling to see so many people get excited about a project like this – contributing to it as artists or supporting it through the Kickstarter campaign that funded a large portion of it, or learning about it through events like what’s happening in San Francisco.
J: An art event about alien sex in San Francisco? Sounds really normal.
C: There’s going to be a screening of eleven of the works from the DVD that comes with the book, and a reading by Suzie Silver. It’s at the Center for Sex and Culture.
J: I don’t remember planning anything at my house! Just kidding. Anything in particular you like about the San Francisco art scene?
C: I think the art scene is really vibrant and unique. It’s interesting to me because San Francisco is much more dense than Los Angeles. I frequently come to San Francisco for zines or book projects and I feel like these things are ubiquitous to the city – you can’t get away from them. I recently participated in the first LA Book Fair with Encyclopedia Destructica and my current publication project called Gravity and Trajectory, which I collaborate on with Louis Schmidt. It was shocking to see how many people were actually from LA. I thought more people would be coming from San Francisco or New York – places with a strong reputation for publications.
J: And with the screening of works at the event – any particular ones stand out? Give me two. I know – it’s hard.
C: The videos are so wonderful. I love them all. Video Science 7: Space Love part 3 – Unregistered Planet 311OPEL by Luke Meeken and Andrew Negrey. Luke and Andrew both have separate mixed-media contributions to the book, and their collaborative video work pulls from their individual practices to create a richly textured environment. The other is Masturbation in Space by Mike Harringer and Joshua Thorson. How do I even describe this? It’s a story about an alien abduction seemingly told over the telephone. I don’t want to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise.
J: You’re so dramatic. Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #4)
C: Way to bring it full circle.
J: I’m the king of segues.
C: We’ve gone on such a journey during this talk.
J: Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #5)
Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial will be presented at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco this Friday, May 10 from 7 to 10 PM. To view more of Christopher’s individual artwork, visit www.kardambikis.com.
Guest Post by Faye Kahn¹
Originally Composed 12/2012
Contemporary society occurs within a system of objects: toasters, cars, latch hooks, extension cords, hair pins, keys, cards, bunk beds, and so on. It is this very system (see also: pile, archive, collection, etc.) that contemporary artists have assimilated & reappropriated as a catalogue of their raw material. In a statement from Cincinnati’s U·turn Art Space’s 2010 “Stuff Art” group show of contemporary assemblage artists, an uncredited author defines the tactic as follows:
”These artists use spatial relationships and juxtaposition to increase our awareness of the common by approaching a free-for-all of range of materials as freed form …The evolution of these art practices is also in dialogue with “truth to materials” philosophies that began in the International Style of Modernist architecture…”²
Not only through Modernist Architecture but more popularly recognized at the advent of the readymade by Duchamp in 1917 & carrying through such evolutionary checkpoints as Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, Mike Kelly’s stuffed animal agglomerations, the Etsy object sculptures of Brad Troemel, & the composited image collages of dump.fm users. The assemblage artist today is in an active & influential position, albeit one that pushes objects across the gallery floor, cutouts across the photocopier bed, & gifs around the checkerboard transparency field rather than paint across a canvas.
If this is the language in which we are speaking now, a lexicon containing stuffed animals, sign-my-guestbook gifs, Vitamin water, urinals, emoticons, taxidermy, etc. etc. & onward into infinity, it is worth noting the popularity of the term “plant” or “houseplant” & occasionally “office plant” which can be found repeatedly throughout digital & physical gallery dialogue.
The houseplant’s original intention was for the interior decorator, whose profession hinges on the art of arrangement. Houseplants usually function as decoration in the home to soften our transition from nature to domestic space. It freshens the air, appeals to our aesthetic senses, & reminds us of idealized places we aren’t (outside). This relationship to interior decorating is recognized by many plant-wielding artists, including & exemplified by Claire Fontaine in her Interior Design for Bastards show (2009) whose statement immediately admits its awareness of “[t]he close and ambiguous relationship between art and decoration.”³
In a matryoshka-like way, the art of arrangement is repeated on a smaller scale within the houseplant’s own container, & even institutionalized by the practice in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. According to the Ikebana International website, “In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors.”⁴ Assemblage artist Carson Fisk-Vittori discusses her Ikebana-like exploration of this link in a 2011 interview with Claudine Ise of contemporary art blog Bad at Sports:
”…a soda can thrown in a flower pot is a gesture, because it is intentionally placed whether or not the person was aware of it… It’s really a natural gesture, like eating a cherry and spitting out the core, but in our world we are dealing with these man-made objects that are specially designed and branded. The contrast of man-made object and plant life really shows how far away we are from living with nature. I basically started looking closer at these casual arrangements and creating my own with elements of plants and man-made objects…I view these arrangements as microcosms for our relationship with nature.”⁵
This approach also addresses the current heightened cultural awareness of environmental issues, which has pushed plants into the socio-political spotlight that provides the creative fodder of cultural critics & artists. There is also an undeniable escapist aspect of the houseplant, as it is kept inside as a reminder of the outside, natural world. This adds to the plant’s ability to represent tropical & indigenous cultures that have more intimate relationships with nature.
However prescient these decorative & potentially escapist implications of plants, they cannot completely explain their rise in popularity in contemporary art. Though these qualities may influence the artist’s decisions on a conscious level, the houseplant has taken on more complex implications than a simple symbol of nature. Through its living presence & familiarity, it has transitioned into a subject that can go as far as acting as a stand in for a human being.
The movement of the plant from the exterior natural space to the interior gallery necessarily devolves the specimen into the tamed version of itself: a house plant. Consequently, this conversion is also the first step in transforming the creature into an entity better capable of relating to humans. Unlike other found props from the system of objects catalogue, a plant is living & needs to be maintained-a quality uniquely expeditious in its importance to living things (in fact the lifespan of the plant determines the duration of visual moments in the work in which it resides). Furthermore, in many cases the plants in use occupy space in an analogous way to how a person would, with similar height & life presence. In an article discussing the sculptural work of Claes Oldenburg, Julian Rose describes the effective use of scale in relation to the minimalist work of Tony Smith:
“The primary objective in scaling the work roughly to the human body was to establish a connection between viewer & object. Objects that are too small or too large…tend to isolate themselves from the observer. A small object is perceived all at once, in a glance; it demands no participation. A similar problem arises with much larger objects, which are unintelligible at a short distance and fully legible only from distances so great that the viewer no longer feels that he or she is sharing space with it. A human-sized sculpture, neither too small nor too large, invites the viewer to move around it, gaining a full understanding through exploration of a shared space.”⁶
Coming upon a plant in a gallery space has a similar effect, if not more pronounced with the added dimension of life. In fact, this dimension & our a priori participatory relationship with plants lessens the problem of the small object Rose describes; we are accustomed to getting close to small plants to take care of them which extends our personal, shared space relationship with them.
Plants serve as a unique stand-in for a person because they have no emotive face. The exploitation of emotion & drama through pop culture, capitalism, & consumer arts has caused passion to become a subject that borders on guaranteed cliché & is territory that must be broached with extreme caution & tact. Plants therefore have a heightened utility to the artist as a subject more ambiguous than a portrait, mannequin, or cartoon character. Domesticated houseplants appear innocent, attractive, & defenseless, making them sympathetic individuals, while not fostering any theatrics or relying on sonic communication as an animal does. As a result of this, installations including plants do not always necessarily feel softened by the presence of plant life but can in fact occasionally alienate the viewer as though she were walking into a room of emotionless people. Still, they are more responsive & decisive than a mineral & their anthropomorphic qualities are obscure enough to free us from any social judgement of character from either subject or object.
This anthropomorphic phenomenon in the fine art world can be exemplified by a blog post found on the Walker Art Center website written by gallery photographer Gene Pittman. In the post, Pittman discusses archival photos from the center pre-1971, a time when plants were commonplace in the museum & gallery setting performing a decorative role:
”In these images [plants] seem to act as the stand-ins for the patrons, sometimes aloof and in the background or congregating around the radiator as if in discussion. And then there are those that are really into the work, standing in front of a sculpture’s light, their shadows enveloping the work.”⁷
Following the text there is an extensive image collection featuring examples of the gallery patron plant in its natural habitat. Looking at these photos today out of context, one might easily confuse them for photos of a contemporary exhibition incorporating plants in an installation. Compare, for example, the following two images:
The top image, from 1959 at the Walker Art Center & the bottom from Jacopo Miliani’s 2008 installation Parrots at the Frutta gallery in Rome. Both situations involve tall, frond bearing plants observing framed 2D artwork hung on nearby walls with no obvious distinguishing feature illuminating the arranger’s identity as artist, as in Miliani’s installation, or as interior decorator, as in Pittman’s archival photo.
A similar effect is achieved by the Tumblr hosted image collection Mise en Green assembled by Brooklyn based curator, exhibition producer, and writer Arden Sherman (www.miseengreen.com) that intuitively documents the plant’s evolution from decorative gallery constituent to chosen member of the art piece. Amongst archival museum & gallery photos like those described above appear photos from contemporary gallery shows without any obvious distinguishing feature. For example, a long cluster of potted greens from the Dormitorio Publico 2012 show at the Campoli Presti Gallery can be found between archival photos from the Guggenheim & the MoMA in the 1950s. A selection of hanging & floor-dwelling plants in ceramic containers at Paul Wacker’s Wait & Watch a While Go By show at the Alice Gallery in Brussels (also from 2012) is displayed unobtrusively between documentation of the MoMA & Manchester Art Galleries from the 70s & 80s.
Viewing the plant as a human stand in allows us to obtain a more insightful reading of contemporary artworks that utilize them. Wait & Watch a While Go By now appears to reference what the group of hanging & potted plants in the exhibit are doing. The gallery is hung with paintings by Wacker & Maya Hayuk done in an unpretentious graphic style, many of which include images of wild plants & houseplants alike. The resulting situation is one of a kind of plant hangout- a place for them to relax & enjoy each others company with pictures of family members decking the halls.
Although this anthropomorphization goes largely unrecognized (at least publicly) by the artists that implement it, at the beginning of his 2008 performance piece Este Cuerpo Que Me Ocupa, João Fiadero directly confronts us with an unadorned plant as subject:
“…Fiadero walks into the stage coming from the audience, crosses it, opens a door on the back wall, and brings in a tall plant in a vase. With care, he lays the vase down on the stage floor and returns to his place among the audience. At the center of the stage, the plant executes a beautiful solo with living creature, inert matter, and imperceptible motions.”⁸
In this example, a potted plant takes on the role of the choreographed dancer. The rest of the performance introduces a cast of other domestic objects (mostly furniture) and a few people, but the first physically present subject is a plant. In internal activity it is between a human and a non-living object. It is transitional, a pathway between identification from a person to a thing.
Buffalo based artist Ethan Breckenridge places his plant subjects in undersized transparent prisms & cubes that emphasize the plant as a sympathetic creature. In his Too Soon installations in Bolivia (2009) & New York (2010), potted plants are crammed into carpeted cubes. The viewer empathizes with the plants, leaves pressed uncomfortably against the walls of the cube, & we may reflect upon our own domesticated & carpeted glass cubes. Breckinridge more specifically articulates the relationship between human & plant in Plants Have No Backs (2008)- another plant (or two in some iterations) in carpeted windowed structure- but this time furnished with a folding chair. The title & the presence of the chair immediately allow the viewer to compare herself to a plant, in particularly those in front of her, humanoid in height. Without any need to sit down or rest its non-existent back, the chair remains empty. If a person were to sit in the chair, she would be in intimate conversation with the plant. One wall of the box is constructed out of a mirrored surface depicting infinite clones of plants with unoccupied chairs. The plant stands tall & unaffected, neither suffering nor lavishing its solitary existence.
In tandem with the plant in the gallery space, the proliferation of the houseplant in artistic practice continues in the internet medium- work that is without 3D physical manifestation. In particularly in the work of younger artists on social communities like dump.fm & the TightArtistNetGang, found plant imagery is common in the composited moments that function as their incessently morphing artistic economy. The plant’s ubiquity here probably has more to do with the large quantity of plant based gifs & clipart used in early web design (much of contemporary net art aesthetics is based in early web/PC nostalgia) than with an anthropomorphic presence. Because web design began by imitating tactile textures, objects & actions in order to make itself more user friendly, it is for the same aesthetic reasons that appears in interior decoration that it finds its way onto the web as design elements. Furthermore, net art of this kind, which seems to seek to create a surreal version of the physical world, would be incomplete without common objects & textures, making plants an obvious & indispensable tool. Like in physical presence, plants here too remind us of an exotic outside world, or, in the case of a potted plant, the physical world immediately outside of the computer.
There are examples of plants in net art at every turn, but 24 year old net artist Douglas Schatz (dump.fm username guccisoflosy), who repeatedly incorporates plant imagery in his work, summarized the trend in posting an animated gif of a potted plant against a grey checkerboard transparency background above the text “Digital Office Plants Are the New Aesthetic.”⁹
Unfortunately there is not enough room here to document a full up-to-date survey of contemporary artwork utilizing houseplants, but perhaps acknowledging this mania will allow us to look at this work with added dimension & intellect, rather than relegating it to simple appropriation. Surely plants will continue to aesthetically enchant all kinds of humans until further notice. Worldwide ethnic traditions document the symbolic meanings of various species, but the houseplant as readymade has mobilized the plant image into the 21st century. It has matured out of trite decorative & expired folkloric identities into advanced contemporary symbolic territory. Although the houseplant’s current definition is unstable (as anything contemporaneous), its qualities as an emotionally ambiguous living subject that is aesthetically pleasing make it a versatile object that will continue to take on meaning as its use continues.
H. FAYE KAHN is a freelance animator in NYC & a free-format radio DJ at listener-sponsored WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. She resides in Brooklyn, NY & holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from Rhode Island School of Design.