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Cologne: “Floraphilia. Revolution of plants”

March 7, 2020 - September 20, 2020


Agency of Singular Investigations (Stanislav Shuripa, Anna Titova), Milena Bonilla, Magda Buczek, Igor and Ivan Buharov, Saddie Choua, Ines Doujak, Ruth Ewan, Dagna Jakubowska, Candice Lin, Cecylia Malik, Bianka Rolando, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Buket Sanati, Åsa Sonjasdotter

It is striking how popular the hobby of growing plants has become in recent years. Instagram is filled with photos of interiors decorated with potted plants (succulents seem to be particularly well liked), new blogs devoted to plant care crop up almost every day, and urban gardening is constantly on the rise. What is the reason behind this increased interest in the domesticated natural world? In his essay “On Lyric Poetry and Society”, Theodor W. Adorno claims that nature becomes sacralized because of the individual’s alienation in a capitalist society, causing him or her to seek a place of escape. What is more, the prestige of nature increases in periods of political disaster, when hopes for a revolutionary societal transformation have been let down. Nature becomes an area in which the alienated individual finds a relief. While it does not eliminate the underlying cause of the poor mental state, contact with flora calms one down.

Yet is such a vision of nature – as a completely depoliticized means of improving our mood, a perfectly functioning consumption object – the only one we have at our disposal? Definitely not! The exhibition “Floraphilia. Revolution of plants” frees the world of plants from the reactionary context of interior design magazines and eco-trends, revealing its emancipatory potential leading to social transformation. The space of CCA Temporary Gallery will turn

into an anarchist laboratory of the revolution-to-come, which will become possible through interspecies exchange. Plants decorating our shelves and window sills will transform into sources of inspiration for political activity. We are fascinated by their resilience, adaptability and communication skills as well as their indifference to state borders. For instance, the Canadian goldenrod instils in us an element of disobedience, the Japanese rose teaches us to evolve in line with our surroundings, while the calamus turns into a symbol of renewal and purification. Plants are community beings by nature – not individuals forming clear boundaries from one another. Their identity is deeply pluralistic: from roots that are a source of decentralized intelligence to dependency relationships that tie them to other organisms. Does it not seem like a panacea to contemporary individualism?

What follows is a questioning of the common understanding of plants as mechanical “things” that react solely to simple stimuli. Plants leave the lowest position in the hierarchy of beings, leading us to a vision of a fundamental continuity between humans and plants, the latter of which – dynamic, breathing and growing – are endowed with intentionality and even memory.

The unique architecture of the exhibition strengthens the ritualistic, communal and scientific themes present in the artworks. Tables covered with cloths, like altars, emphasize the need to go beyond the instrumentalization of nature based on the disenchantment of reality: selected religious or shamanic beliefs go hand in hand with the discoveries of modern science, showing plants as much more complex organisms than it could seem. Tables and chairs encourage visitors to spend more time in the exhibition space: see the works, read the publications, and talk about them with other visitors. It is an attempt to introduce a different type of temporality into the exhibition space, one that would be closer to the slowly developing world of plants and in opposition to the usual practices of viewing exhibitions. The exhibition space constructed in such a way also brings to mind a meeting place of a mysterious sect, which sees the practices of observing and examining plants as the beginnings of a future revolution.

A special edition of the SURPLUS project will also be present: the artist Magda Buczek digs into discourses, lifestyle trends and modern ecologies to fish for new semantic fetishes concerning the world of flora. Her slogans are printed on used garments in a limited edition of ten.

The exhibition is a spin-off of the project “Floraphilia: On the Interrelations of the Plant World, Botany and Colonialism”, realized in the years 2018-2019 by the Akademie der Künste der Welt (Academy of the Arts of the World) and funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. Its goal was to illuminate the social and political aspects of the history of plants, botany and botanical gardens, in particular plants’ co-option throughout colonial history, as well as their economic, feminist and migratory contexts. The project started in 2018 in Cologne with the exhibition “Floraphilia. Plants as Archives” and was followed by the symposium “The botanical garden as a colonial site”. In 2019 it continued in other locations with the involvement of international partner institutions, events took place in Berlin (in collaboration with Savvy Contemporary), Aalst (prepared jointly with CIAP Kunstverein and Netwerk Aalst) and London as part of the Critical Ecologies research stream at Goldsmiths, University of London. The exhibition at Temporary Gallery is a reworked version of the exhibition “Floraphilia. Revolution of plants” that happened at Biennale Warsaw in 2019.

The exhibition is accompanied by public program.

Exhibition curator: Aneta Rostkowska

Exhibition design: Mateusz Okoński

We also present an online version of the exhibition “Floraphilia. Revolution of plants” for public access. A part of the planned events will also take place in virtual space.

Links to the online version of the exhibition:

Film with a guided tour around the show by the curator Aneta Rostkowska. (click here.)

Playlist with films included in the show. (Click here.)
Password: Temporary-Gallery

Online folder with photos, descriptions etc. (Click here.)

To hear more about the exhibition you can also listen to the podcast „Sadness of Missing Out“ by Lena Ditte Nissen. (Click here.)