The Odyssey has been translated into many languages, but never translated into the language of flowers. This is the work of artist Camille Henrot’s new exhibition Snake Grass at Schinkel Pavillon. At first, the show doesn’t seem to be from the same artist who created the Silver Lion Award-winning Venice Biennale video Grosse Fatigue in 2013. But the concept and actualization of her exhibition illustrates Henrot’s finely tuned philosophical curiosity toward the world. She has taken the question of her exhibition “Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?” as inspiration for her intricate, Ikebana-inspired structures that to her embody selected quotes.
The result, in the stunning openness of Schinkel Pavillon, is a sort of futuristic and mystical botanical garden. The project is described as a “translation of an entire library into ikebana.” The life essences and musings that come from classic thinkers and books like Robinson Crusoe are now condensed into flower form.
Delicate flora are juxtaposed with other objects such as extension cords. Each piece has a plaque next to it with its accompanying quote, such as: “The divergent mind is noted for the disregard of facts in favor of possibilities.” Spindly vines, mutant fruits, and tropical cornucopias are just a few of the natural wonders that we frankly forgot existed. Meticulous balance and design create structures that are stylish and imaginative.
In an artist talk, Henrot admitted that she actually used her computer during much of the brainstorming process, as flowers were too pricey to experiment with extensively. The practical problem of not all of the desired flowers blooming in the same season limited her in ways, but that the materials are so ephemeral serves as a charming testament to her artistic vision and skills.
During the artist talk and screening on Saturday, April 5th, the artist also spoke with curator Clara Meister of her unique studies of Ikebana. She chose to use some of the Sogetsu School methods while working with a master, yet also consciously chose to work with ideas that strayed from the taught style. One of the most important concepts she chose to preserve, however, was the asymmetry of nature. Nothing in nature is ever perfectly symmetrical, she explained. Though the manipulation of flowers is apparent, a certain essence of nature and its random order are important to maintain in the language of her perennial arrangements.
The night also included a screening of five of her short films, ending with Grosse Fatigue, a spectacular example of Henrot’s fascination with nature and natural history. Granted a fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution, Henrot managed to compress an abridged history of the world into 13 minutes. The screen resembles a desktop, with a constant rhythm of pop-up windows corresponding with a spoken-word script: “In the beginning,” is a phrase repeated in tempo with the “Drop it Like It’s Hot”-inspired punchy beat. Shots vary from taxidermy parrots in a storage drawer to a pair of hands flipping through a Skymall magazine.
The shown films all varied in genre and style, each one engrossing the viewers. Her unique and painstakingly detailed methods include scratching on each shot of film in Dying Living Woman (2005) and drawing with felt pen on Deep Inside. The latter film, a pornographic-music-video-love-ballad, combines red-hued 1970’s sex scenes. Her hand-drawn forms and cartoons oscillate between the obscured and the visible, making the sexual display tender and emotional.
Henrot’s video works are definitely her strength, but the screenings and artist talk provided a chance to grasp her interest in the universe, Snake Grass just being one branch of her magnetism toward material and nature. One of her films, The Strife of Love in a Dream (2010) will also be screened as part of the show in the former Schinkel Bar during the exhibition.
“Snake Grass” – CAMILLE HENROT
Exhibition: Apr. 05 – May 11, 2014
Oberwallstraße 1 (Click here for map)
AJ Kiyoizumi is a writer living in Berlin.