Céline Baumann: Queer Nature

#Exhibition, Talks
2 May - 22 Jun 2019
Opening Talk: 18.00
VI PER Gallery, Prague, CZ
Vítkova 2, Prague 8, Czech Republic

Queerness can be found everywhere in nature. The exhibition at the VI PER Gallery explores the little-known, often-overlooked, and rare intimate behaviour of the botanical world.

Queerness can be found everywhere in nature. The exhibition at the VI PER Gallery explores the little-known, often-overlooked, and rare intimate behaviour of the botanical world. Celebrating the diversity of the vegetable kingdom means celebrating the diversity of shapes, gender, sexes, and colours around us. We live in a world that is constantly evolving, accepting a spectrum of values more diverse than ever before. Increasingly, it is difficult for preconceived patterns and one-sided ideas to respond to the contemporary circumstances. How can we create a feeling of inclusivity that transcends archetypes? How can we confront the notion of the standard with individual experiences allowing other forms of emancipation? Here, we embrace the notion that plants are our oldest teachers and share stories about their more-than-human knowledge. By opening a post-anthropocene space for reflection, we challenge the belief that matter and intelligence should be dissociated, regarding flora as more than a mere commodity. We explore the power of trees, shrubs, flowers, and herbs as a source of inspiration, providing alternatives to the way we design and act, whether on the scale of a national territory, a public space or a private garden.

Secret Life of Plants

The vegetable kingdom is multifaceted: with an infinite variety of shapes, colours, textures and smells, it is allergic to semblance. The origin of this extreme diversity is the result of evolution through sexual reproduction, allowing plants to adapt to changing weather, soil conditions, or predators. Such a range of possibilities can thus be framed as queer, in reference to minorities that detach themselves from binary gender conduct. Some flowers are unisexual and possess separate male and female attributes, either as a separate individual, or with separate male and female flowers on the same specimen. Some species are bisexual, also known as simultaneous hermaphroditism, and have both male and female parts on the same flower. Others are transitionally transgender, displaying sequential transformation. Those features evolve with time and space. They unfold slowly and diverge from mechanisms subjugated to mere productivity and efficiency. While sexual reproduction enables plants to evolve by selecting a balance of favourable hereditary characteristics, this is still a slow and demanding process. Not every seed will turn into a seedling, not every seedling into a mature individual. This is nevertheless necessary to allow mutations that can happen during growth, vital for plants to adapt to their often-changing environment and to climate change.

Manufactured Botany

Contemporary horticultural production is realized through vegetative propagation, cloning growth material, like branches, leaves, or root parts. Cloning has the advantage of being a quick and efficient process, producing a large number of offspring reaching fast maturity. Those exact copies do not, however, generate new genetic material, exposing identical generations to the risk of being entirely wiped out by diseases. Our houseplants, purchased in the garden centres of Prague or elsewhere in Europe, are mostly today cultivated within automated glasshouses. This manufactured botany produces well-aligned pots on a massive scale. Even though the vegetal material most usually originates in the indoor farming production area of Westland, in the Netherlands, the label on the pot evokes exotic post-colonial origins, such as Sumatra or Indonesia. Indeed, this horticultural substance was originally brought back to Europe throughout the early modern period by voyages sponsored by colonial powers, expeditions that simultaneously supported scientific exploration, imperial conquests, and global trade. Palms, bamboos, arums, rubber trees, and cactuses ranked prominently among the motivations for voyages of discovery, together with costly spices, medicinal herbs, and cash crops. They could then be pasted neatly into folios of the herbaria of European botanical gardens. By the end of the eighteenth century, Europe possessed a considerable number of botanical gardens. Today, they form a Tower of Babel in reverse, bringing into the same space plants from all parts of the globe.

Third Landscape

In addition to the mass-produced botany found in interiors and public spaces, a somehow different and more independent flora has established itself in the city. It is the vegetation of spontaneous plants growing near settlements and paths, having learnt to coexist with people. They survive in complicated conditions thanks to extremely effective breeding strategies, often having to overcome mechanical destruction or other pitfalls of human activity. This ubiquitous nature encountered in neglected spaces, ravines, train tracks, etc. is too often overlooked and ignored. It forms, nonetheless, a biodiversity all around us, even here in the vicinity of the VI PER Gallery space. Third Landscape is an experiment realized in the courtyard of the gallery: bare ground from the close vicinity is collected and placed in barrels. The chosen collection locations are the ones left over within the city fabric: the flooded area of the Rohan Island, where ruins of derelict buildings and excavated soil from surrounding building sites have been unearthed, and the Karlín railway embankments, amongst other forgotten areas. The different seedlings and plantlets subsequently emerging from the apparently naked soil layer give proof of the biodiversity originating from those sites. This botanical material is part of the Third Landscape, as described by the French landscape architect Gilles Clément: it is the sum of the space left to nature, and the genetic reservoir of the planet.

Céline Baumann (1984) is a French landscape architect and spatial designer based in Switzerland. Over the years, she has worked in a variety of contexts, reflecting her personal interest in international exchange and cross-cultural environments. She aims through an intersectional lens to create dynamic open spaces, informed by the interactive ecology between people and nature. This design work is complemented by a commitment to writing and research, allowing her to explore the collective value of nature and its impact on individuals. Baumann is currently a Future Architecture alumna and an Akademie Schloss Solitude fellow. She is also the co-founder of Schwesterprojekt, a queer collective creating temporary spaces of expression in Basel. Her work on Queer Nature has been presented at the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana and the Theatre Festival in Basel. Her next projects include collaborations with the Tirana Design Week and the Oslo Architecture Triennale during the coming fall.