Susanne Kriemann Research trip to a former uranium mining field for collecting plant matter and sheep dung, Ronneburg, 2019.
Photos : Aleksander Komarov, courtesy of the artist

Of Time and Contaminated Flowers: On the Work of Susanne Kriemann and Anaïs Tondeur

Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou
Flowers aptly illustrate the full circle of life. From the bloom of youth, through the fading that accompanies ageing, until the end brought by death, they are a perfect sign of mutability. In this sense, they also faultlessly represent the passage of time. In J. G. Ballard’s short story The Garden of Time, the fantastical technology of time flowers endows them with the capacity to momentarily halt time.1 1 - J. G. Ballard, “The Garden of Time,” The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009), 298–309. 511-520.. In the garden of a castle, these strange flowers are empowered to slow the advent of the future. The tale recounts the attempt by the castle’s two aristocrats to use the time flowers in order to delay the arrival of an angered rabble of peasants looming on the horizon. By the story’s end, the mob has overrun the castle and the buds have disappeared, putting into full view the perils of relying on such magical tricks of time mastery. How to protect ourselves from an ominous future (personified here by the mob) is the question that the allegorical time-revoking flowers seem to ask.

Ballard’s story has recently been read as bringing into relief the rhetoric of urgency that characterizes contemporary popular environmentalism.2 2 - Rebekah Sheldon, The Child to Come: Life After Human Catastrophe (London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 32. 32.. This uncertainty-driven social malaise can be expressed as the desire to label the unknown and threatening future as safe, lodging it as anticipated, regularized, and, thus, manageable. Certain technologies offer precisely that promise of securing a known and mapped future. The gradual loss of the flower’s supernatural technology of delay, however, betrays the futility of this exercise, which also comfortably shifts our gaze from the present. Yet what would happen if we left behind such pre-established certainties and let the flowers guide us in unexpected temporal encounters that incited us to embrace a more uncertain perspective and linger within the present? Taking flowers as their guides to uncertain futures and contaminated territories, some contemporary artists are initiating unexpected collaborations with toxic plants.

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This article also appears in the issue 99 - Plants
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