June 30-July 24, 2021
a group exhibition exploring human relationships with plants
Charly Baxter, Jordan Clayton, Nicole Crozier with Sanita Fejzic, Alyssa Ellis, Samantha Gullekson, Laura Keeling, Holly MacKinnon, Miles Rufelds, Adrienne Scott, Quintin Teszeri, Yiling Wang, and Emma Welch
Mossification, Nicole Crozier with Sanita Fejzic
Plant-human relationships stem across culture and history; the biological world is one that we, as living beings, are deeply entrenched in. Regardless of our efforts or inclination to distance ourselves, as humans, from “nature” - and sometimes, these efforts seem successful - it is fraught. In a period of time unofficially known as the Anthropocene, we are recognizing the human influence on the Earth’s systems and processes. In exploring the intersection of plants and visual culture, this grouping of work reflects on and brings light to different aspects and perspectives of plant-human relationships. Looking at care, at connections, at communication - the artists were asked, broadly, for work that considers plants and our relationships with them.
In some of these works we see the figure directly interacting with the world of plants, such as in Holly MacKinnon’s painting, ‘Plant Eater.’ Here she explores the dichotomy and contradictions in the human-nature relationship; one where we are distanced from the natural world yet crave it, interact with nature for self-comfort, yet exploit it and fear it. The figure is nearly engulfed by textured green leaves - leading us to wonder if this figure is truly eating its way out, or will be soon altogether lost in the greenery. Similarly, Nicole Crozier and Sanita Fejzic’s collaborative work ‘Mossification’ depicts the figure with nature in a series of three photographs. These question the idea of separate, contained beings and instead ask us to consider the possibility that ‘we are agents of multiplicity, a teaming of many bodies, inter-connected with human and non-human consciousnesses around us?’
In other pieces we explore plants below ground, such as in Quintin Teszeri’s ‘Small Potatoes.’ This bronze sculpture, described as ‘the swollen end of an underground stem’ brings attention to the potato’s omnipresence and versatility. Its position and root system create space for contemplation of its processes. Adrienne Scott’s ‘Roots’ 1 and 2 allude to the root system as underground network of communication. The tangled, organic forms are an exposition of hidden growth.
Some of these works directly speak to the relationships between human and houseplant; a relationship where we hold a part of nature in our human, interior spaces. The two works from Alyssa Eliss’s series ‘Blinded by the Green’ bring attention to this practice as one that carries a heavier burden. With embroidered text reading ‘collecting can only be a lovesickness’ and ‘greenhouses are nothing but graveyards,’ we are asked to consider the environmental impact of growing and collecting houseplants. What are their origins - and, can this be made into a sustainable practice? Or are they doomed to graveyards of lovesickness, an unchangeable destination?
Miles Rufelds ‘As Stem is To Leaf’ is a video depicting a potted plant and a flashlight, blinking in Morse code. Here we can consider the connections and divisions of natural and urban worlds. The blinking, coded message is "At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again” - an opening line from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Is this a message from the plant? We are reminded that our human-plant relationships are ultimately unresolved.
A recurring parallel in some of these works is the idea that working with depictions and ideas of plants is both an act of escapism and a way of grounding and understanding the natural environment and our plant-human relationships. In Jordan Clayton’s work ‘Ugly Slug Tree’ we are faced with a plant that could be, but is not - illustrating the tension and juxtaposition of the plant-human relationship as simultaneously familiar and otherworldly, comforting and mysterious. It is both a quest of understanding the plant and recognition that it is something other to us. Charly Baxter’s ‘Winter Sunflowers’ is an unstable landscape on metal, which ‘rusts to indicate that it is an active surface reclaiming itself, despite prevailing exploitation.’ Delicate flowers exist in the negative space in a gentle composition that asks us to reflect both on the perspective of the environment and the perspective of the human: as we manipulate and impact our world, we are wholly dependent on it.
Continuing with human relationships with outdoor, wild plants, Yiling Wang’s ‘Stage Four’ depicts withered, dried plant matter, which would often be evocative of death but instead is standing tall and bright in a beam of light. As a visual paradox, the piece appears hopeful, challenging preconceived notions of the cycle of life and how we, as humans, place meaning onto life cycles separate from our own. Samantha Gullekson’s ‘Find A Way’ uses reclaimed textiles to depict a sculptural representation of plant growth through human creation that brings focus to the resiliency, determination, and adaptability of plants. At the same time, the reusing of fibre (much of which is plant-based) literally draws on the connection of humans and plants - the ways that we manufacture, use, and reuse the natural world.
Laura Keeling’s ‘The Dance’ and Emma Welch’s ‘flower fence (3)’ both make use of repetition and pattern. The vibrant, methodical pattern of ‘flower fence (3)’ explores the idea of field psychedelia; ‘field research of plant material and archival botanical illustrations as a way to enter an altered state of consciousness.’ The intricate pattern, while recognizably botanical, has been recontextualized through drawing in such a way that feels somewhat eerie. ‘The Dance’ is a digital collage of flowers that have been scanned, and then printed on silk. In considering a reciprocal relationship between humans and nature, this visually striking symmetrical piece examines action, use, and impact.
The exploration of plant-human relationships in visual culture embodies many themes, histories, and interpretations. This is an ongoing series of relationships, both personally and as a species. It is multifaceted and layered. This is just a small group of works exploring some of these facets, in conversation with each other, at one moment of time.
'“Mossification”: Subverting the Human-Centric Portrait with a More-Than-Human Triptych,' an article by Sanita Fejzic to accompany the piece 'Mossification' (Nicole Crozier with Sanita Fejzic) can be read here.