Plants | esse arts + opinions


99 - Printemps / été 2020

As science demystifies the complex universe of plants, we become more open to their sensitivity, intelligence, and agency. This issue appeals to interdisciplinarity more than ever before, taking its references from the fields of science, anthropology, and botany. Inevitably, environmental concerns and the impact of human intervention on plant biodiversity have a significant presence in the topics covered. As for the artworks, by closely observing the non-individualistic behaviour of plants, they propose, without moralizing, various ways of communicating with nature. Generally solicited for what they are, but also for their metaphorical meanings, the flowers, stalks, roots, fruit, and leaves that appear in these pages sometimes evoke human exploitation, domination, and the collapse of ecosystems, but also, more optimistically, resistance, solidarity, collaboration, and hope for renewal.


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Articles à la pièce



What Plants Tell Us
Sylvette Babin


Towards an Ecosophical Art
Starting from Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, published in 1989, the author explores the relationships between contemporary art and ecosophy, a concept that moves the environmental issue away from an exclusively scientific approach and expands it to the spheres of social relations and human subjectivity. The analysis of work by artists Åsa Sonjasdotter and Zheng Bo, whose research centres on the plant world, puts forward possible readings of ecosophical art. Plants become the carriers and symbols of a paradigm shift that combines anti-speciesism, spatial valorization, micropolitics, and institutional critique.
[Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei]

Cléo Verstrepen

The Question of Plant Consciousness in Contemporary Art
In this article, the author considers the use of plants in art in light of current scientific research whose findings suggest the existence of consciousness in plants. A growing trend in the use of plants by feminist-oriented artists as vehicles for expressing, exploring, and/or confronting emotional, political, and social turmoil has marked a paradigm shift in the way that art is informed by and through the natural world. The author asks whether an acknowledgment of plant consciousness necessitates an ethical revaluation of the human-plant relationship, and, whether this might detract from the effectiveness of plants as artistic mediums and/or subjects in redefining our relationship with the natural world, and with plants themselves.

Emma Lansdowne

Photography and the Nature/Culture Divide
Photography is sometimes seen as a process that is collaborative with nature, in which light and lenses assist the work of the artist/photographer. Throughout the history of photography, images of plant forms have often served to cement this idea, steering the emphasis of photographic content away from cultural meanings and determinants and toward a concern with captured form. In this essay, Hopgood challenges this notion by looking at the work of Robert Voit, Binh Danh, and Mathieu Asselin. The author posits the idea that, in these artists’ work, plants are not the stable signifiers of nature that we may have presumed them to be.

Roger Hopgood

Of Time and Contaminated Flowers: On the Work of Susanne Kriemann and Anaïs Tondeur
In this article, the author considers the use of radioactively contaminated flowers in works by Susanne Kriemann and Anaïs Tondeur. By developing their practices in the context of radioactive zones, the two artists directly incorporate contaminated plants into their works. It is argued that this gesture not only highlights the temporal complexity of radioactivity but also troubles the stigmatization of contaminated environments. This is achieved through an approach to contaminated flowers as “collaborators” and not as mere artistic material. Kriemann and Tondeur thus both articulate a commitment to glean an aesthetics of contamination from the radioactive plants.

Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou

Rashid Johnson: Plants, Presence, and Care
Rashid Johnson has recast the presence of plants in the gallery space from political markers of the nature/culture dichotomy to fully acknowledged living organisms that demand our empathy. His installations appropriate and reconfigure the work of modern-art giants such as Sol LeWitt and Joseph Beuys to creatively free plants from predetermined, classical symbolism, offering us an opportunity to think about our relationship with them, their omnipresence in our lives, and the socio-ecological systems that we all inhabit.

Giovanni Aloi

Fatma Bucak: The Damask Rose
In this essay, the author explores the ramifications of Fatma Bucak’s project titled Damascus Rose, in which the artist attempted to save the Damask rose from the devastation of the Syrian Civil War. At the end of the war, the cuttings will return to Damascus to be replanted and cultivated anew.

Anaïs Castro

“Waybroad” and Lessons in New Territories
“Wayboard,” or Plantain, was revered by pagan Saxons in the tenth century; since its introduction into North America, it has naturalized itself into the environment. Its prolific medicinal properties make it a valuable plant-helper. The veneration of Plantain continues, with Indigenous harvesters, herbalists, and foragers valuing it as a healing mother. These attitudes are reflected by Métis painter Christi Belcourt and American photographer Jimmy Fike. Unlike the human species, Plantain acts in accordance with others’ protocols, goes where it is permitted, and provides assistance when needed. This humble intruder teaches us about patience and our conduct as guests.

Amanda Amour-Lynx & Chris Gismondi

A Vegetal Odyssey
In 2006, sixteen hundred Arabidopsis thaliana seeds travelled on the space shuttles Discovery and Atlantis to the International Space Station, carrying with them a key role in the human drive to colonize space. Despite being a small insignificant wild weed, A. thaliana was the first plant to have its genome fully sequenced, and the first to complete a life cycle in space. Artist collective Soft Turns took an interest in the plant in 2016 during a three-year research residency at the University of Guelph. In subsequent years, Soft Turns has been creating artworks that study behaviours of the plant in space to further understand the future of human ambition.

Tak Pham

Floral Resistance to Authoritarianism and Incarceration in Porcelain Installations by Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang
In two recent site-specific installations, Blossom (2014) and Transience: Peony I (2019), Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang, respectively, challenge the conventional view of flowers and porcelain as apolitical by using this subject and material to expose the cruelty of incarceration and hubris of authoritarianism. Cai’s fallen peony blossoms, recreated in gunpowder-blackened porcelain, juxtapose the vanity of an ancient despot’s desire for immortality against the cyclic impermanence of nature. Ai draws on the commemorative and restorative properties of flowers to bring hope to the former Alcatraz Hospital ward. Both artists demonstrate possibilities for political activation far removed from the superficial and sentimental.

Alex Burchmore


Carrie Allison
Indigenous mixed-ancestor multidisciplinary artist Carrie Allison seeks to contemplate and interact with the natural world through visual explorations in which she uses beading, embroidery, and multimedia techniques. These practices are repetitive and time intensive, and it is in the durational and durable nature of Allison’s gestures that connections with stories of the past can germinate and reactivate the knowledge conveyed in them. […]

Elise Anne LaPlante

Lorna Bauer
In 1932, Walter Benjamin sojourned in Ibiza, where he wrote about the island’s fauna and flora in a style alternating between considerate description and poetic abstraction. A recent work by artist Lorna Bauer referencing Benjamin’s time in Spain also bears the name Ibiza […]

Daniel Fiset

Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay
Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s work has explored floral themes since the early 2010s. Ongoing concerns in his work include flowers as tools for translation, narrative, and navigation. […]

Mark Clintberg

Eve Tagny
Affective and corporeal memory, individual, collective, and intergenerational trauma, intimate and familial relationships, violence, loss, hope, resilience, and rituals are all themes that traverse Eve Tagny’s hybrid polymorphic work — work in which vegetation, more than a simple motif, has an imposing presence. […]

Ariane De Blois

Laura St. Pierre
Artist Laura St. Pierre combines installation, sculpture, and photography to generate a narrative around the history of plants, living reminders of places and ecosystems threatened by human development. […]

Anne-Marie Dubois


Gare à la salade
Michel F. Côté


Visual Arts

Monique Régimbald-Zeiber, Musée d’art de Joliette, Joliette by Anne-Marie Dubois

Maclean, Galeries Roger Bellemare et Christian Lambert, Montréal by Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

Nicole Fournier, Fonderie Darling, Montréal, by Michelle Lacombe

Le vent se lève, Mac/Val, Val-de-Marne by Nathalie Desmet

Michelle Bui, Franz Kaka, Toronto by Anaïs Castro

Luce Meunier, Maison de la culture Claude-Léveillée, Montréal, by Anne Roger

Ruth Asawa, David Zwirner, London, U.K. by Emily LaBarge


Le catalogue des plantes de bureau de l’UQO, Galerie UQO, Gatineau by Marie Perrault

Why Look at Plants? The Botanical Emergence in Contemporary Art, Brill, Leiden & Boston by Stephen Goddard

Pour une esthétique de l’émancipation, Éditions B42, Paris by Camille Paulhan


mayfield brooks, JACK, Brooklyn by Didier Morelli


Presentation of issue Plants

Sylvette Babin, Directrice | Editor, Les éditions Esse
Sylvette Babin, Directrice | Editor, Les éditions Esse
Cléo Vertrespen
Cléo Vertrespen
Emma Lansdowne
Emma Lansdowne
Tak Pham
Tak Pham
Anaïs Castro
Anaïs Castro
Alex Burchmore
Alex Burchmore
Roger Hopgood
Roger Hopgood
Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou
Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou
Giovanni Aloi
Giovanni Aloi

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