“Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, ‘Greenery’ symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another, and a larger purpose.”
Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute describes here the meaning of 15-0343, better known as “Greenery”, or also Pantone’s colour of the year 2017. Arguably, their choice is not a surprising one, given that almost daily articles are published that relate to a heavily promoted nearly biophilic lifestyle. These articles might be seen in response to the growing awareness of our burgeoning disconnection from nature. Our “urban-induced alienation”, fostered by a massive digitization and a sound understanding of ecological challenges, has led to an idealisation of the natural world as a place soon to be lost where one can find refuge from daily distresses and rediscover one’s self and place in the world. Although nature has been considered the preeminent bourgeois escapist cure since centuries, the “back-to-nature revival” in contemporary popular culture is remarkable.
The exhibition The Best Bogus Botanical Garden then aims to foreground art practices that explore this shifting relationship humans have with nature. More specifically, the participating artists Giovanni Castell (GER), Lisa Creagh (UK), Sakir Gökçebag (TUR), Janaina Mello Landini (BRA), Liz Orton (UK), Jens Rausch (GER), Maren Simon (GER), Katie Spragg (UK), and Sadie Weis (USA) simulate the very nature we have become distanced from, either by manipulating organic elements in new forms, or by inventing their own materials.
To further enhance the illusory character of the works of art, the exhibition is designed to be a fully immersive environment. The Best Bogus Botanical Garden will literally transform the white cube gallery space into a botanical garden, completely artificial, or bogus, in the sense that it will not contain any living organism: either its elements will be artworks, or they will be fake decor pieces.
By devising the exhibition design as such, the curators are aware they are placing themselves on the slippery slope of creating something. However, they do not even pretend to act as artists. They realize they have chosen a definitely idiosyncratic approach to the exhibition, believing that this bold stage-setting and play with modes of display will not only provoke discussions about the undermining of the artist’s and/or curator’s position, but will also provide a unique way of looking at the artworks. In this sense they wish to evoke, through the staging of a fictional environment, the embodied atmosphere (in Gernot Böhme’s interpretation of the concept) of a botanical garden, whilst at the same time they are aware of and playing with the notion of the construction itself.
Pivotal in this entire project then stands the concept of “simulation”. Borrowing from Jean Baudrillard, the simulating process weakens the “truth/falsity differential”: the simulation of both the artists and the curators blurs the boundaries between the original (i.e. nature and a botanical garden, respectively) and the simulacra (i.e. the individual artworks and the exhibition display). The idea of effacing what is real and what is replicated is particularly interesting here because we are no longer that familiar with the original in the first place.
In line with this, attention is almost automatically drawn to the materiality of the atmosphere and artworks. The way both are produced becomes crucial to convincingly convey the illusion. Contrary to minimal or conceptual projects, the physical object thus stands at the heart of this exhibition. It could be said that The Best Bogus Botanical Garden that functions via its materiality, particularly when considering that “with materiality, the experience of the viewer is essential, providing completion of art through bodily perception.” This condition is particularly vital when considering the interrelationship between the physical attributes of the gallery space and the exhibited artworks. The aesthetic experience of the visitors is, in fact, strictly bound to an ontological co-dependence between the material presence of the immersive environment and that of the artistic objects, whose reception would be unavoidably altered by their placement in a more conventional white cube space. In this situation, the objectual quality of each artwork is exalted precisely by its association with the surrounding simulated environment and its multi-sensorial impact upon the visitors.
Admittedly, this very materiality also goes hand in hand with the notion of kitsch. By using a mode of display that could arguably be considered decorative, and the abundance of plastic which could lead one to think about a bad taste in gimmicky objects, the exhibition aura is tainted by hints of kitsch. However, being aware of this, the curators have decided to play with it in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, as the sentimental and ironic character of kitsch matches with their exhibition concept that responds to a longing for a nature nearly lost with artificiality.
Interestingly, kitsch has its origins in cheap mass-production, and considering the exhibition space (a commercial gallery), this adds another layer to The Best Bogus Botanical Garden. The natural world essentially does not have a specific owner, but by recreating it in a setting devised for consumption, this becomes an option.
But then again, it is all bogus.